Incumbent Supervisor Steve Madrone and real estate broker Larry Doss, a former Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District commissioner, are vying to represent the Fifth District in this year's June election.
Madrone is finishing up his first term on the board after narrowly defeating Ryan Sundberg in 2018 to represent the sprawling district that stretches from the more urban neighborhoods of McKinleyville to the rural reaches of Willow Creek, encompassing the northern portions of Humboldt County.
Doss, who is also a cattle rancher, recently moved his primary residence from Eureka to Orick to qualify for the race.
With the election approaching, the Journal interviewed Madrone and Doss, asking each the same four questions on issues affecting the region, including homelessness, climate change, the county's budget and economic development. Here's what they had to say.
NCJ: Homelessness and housing insecurity is a nationwide problem but also an acute one in Humboldt County. What steps can the county government take to address this issue, which is complex with myriad causes?
Madrone: One solution, the incumbent said, is leveraging the hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal Section 8 housing vouchers that go unused locally each year by creating tiny home villages on surplus county or state land, or private property with the owner's cooperation.
The idea, Madrone said, would be to basically take out a loan from the General Fund to buy a dozen or 20 modular units from the Hoopa Valley Tribe's company annually, then use Section 8 voucher money from the rent to repay the fund, with the added benefit of supporting jobs in the Hoopa Valley.
"Once we have people in housing and out of the woods, then you can start bringing wrap-around services to the people and, for those who either want or need mental health or addiction services or other types of services, then we can actually do that," Madrone said, noting there's also a great deal of funding coming down from the state that the county could tap into.
Any success, he said, will also depend on creating partnerships with nonprofits and community buy-in, noting there's a common misconception that many of those facing homelessness locally are from other areas despite a "tremendous amount of evidence" that shows they either grew up or were already living here before becoming homeless "for any number of reasons." And, he said, "some empathy would go a long way" toward finding a landing spot for such programs.
"So funding, partners and location," Madrone said. "All of those are elements that have to be solved in order to make progress, but I think most taxpayers get it that by not solving this problem, we are actually spending a lot more money, a lot more taxpayer dollars, than we would spend if we were actually putting it toward solving the problem. So that goes a long way toward helping convince people that we really should do something."
Doss: With homelessness and housing insecurity running "deep and wide" across the region, affecting emergency and medical services, all aspects of business in the county and community members' sense of security, Doss said it's important to look for solutions with "quick results."
Doss pointed to the county's plans to open a transition center for homeless residents, saying he is "rooting on" the pilot project, noting similar ones have seen success in neighboring counties.
Doss said he believes there are a lot of options that "don't cost a great deal of money" and one idea would be to look beyond public -private partnerships to
also incentivize the private sector to provide affordable housing.
"I would also like to take that a step further and work on a program to offer affordable housing that folks can buy and be an owner and have more control over their future," Doss said. "By being an owner, they would gain equity for their future, gain security that they have a set place that they own and are not subject to possible changes of ownership but then it also helps, for those who want to partake in that, to step up in life and grow some personal wealth."
Noting that "one size doesn't fit all," Doss also pointed to tiny homes and converting hotel rooms into long-term housing as additional options for putting a roof over people's heads.
"We can't go much longer without results and we can't expect people to live in those conditions," Doss said. "So we owe it to our society to come up with results, and when we do that, it solves a myriad of issues within the county that we're all dealing with on a day-to-day basis."
NCJ: With the county facing a projected $18 million budget deficit next fiscal year, what are some of your budget priorities and how might the board of supervisors address the challenges and issues surrounding the Auditor-Controller's Office?
Madrone: Starting out by saying, "our roads are a mess." Madrone said he is pleased the issue appears poised to be recommended for "significant funding" in the next round of Measure Z allocations from the countywide half-cent sales tax. But, he said, the county may need to look at pursuing another special tax measure "specifically to fund road maintenance because it is falling behind."
In addition, Madrone said the county needs to be creative and he supports hiring grant writers for individual departments, saying they will pay for their own salaries by bringing in additional monies "for roads or mental health or all kinds of other programs."
Madrone said ongoing issues with the Auditor-Controller's Office stem from a combination of long-standing understaffing there and in other departments, and the county falling into a pattern of bad accounting practices.
The problem most recently, he said, "was trying to change all that too quickly, and not really providing the staffing in all of the various departments to be able to accurately account for things and do timely processing, where all the documentation is submitted to get all of the requests approved timely."
"We have a long way to go with that and I think staff are working really hard to make all of that happen but, for whatever reasons, we are still missing the mark on a lot of that, and so I think we have a long way to go within all the departments, special districts and our AC's (Office), both to get people trained and to institutionalize the processes ... so that we can get back to doing business and closing our books timely," Madrone said.
Doss: The challenger said he "dove into a lot of the budget" and believes there are ways to save by doing things "just a little bit differently." But, Doss noted, he also wants to hear from constituents and county staff to "come up with some different solutions that we don't normally see."
"That's how I do it in business and that is the key," he said.
"The key job for supervisors is the management of the county and so the budget is really where it starts," Doss said, "and then I'm also concerned about the culture within the county and I'm very interested in ... both making it more pleasant for employees but also, a lot of times from within come great ideas for sometimes minor adjustments, for sometimes big changes, and they make all the difference in the world for everybody."
On the auditor-controller's office, Doss said that "it sounds like the state has been forced to step in," referring to recent reports that the state is suing the county of Humboldt and Auditor-Controller Karen Paz Dominguez over her office's failure to meet deadlines for filing of state-mandated financial records.
"I would just trust the system to work there and then study it as it unfolds," Doss said.
NCJ: The long-waited draft of the Climate Action Plan for Humboldt was just released; what can the supervisors do to push forward implementation of the goals and what would be some of your priorities on the local level to address the effects of climate change?
Madrone: A key element, the incumbent said, is the Economics 101 principle of carrots and sticks, with a heavy emphasis on the carrots by providing financial incentives to reduce fossil fuel and other greenhouse gas emissions and engage in stewardship activities.
"So, that's No. 1 for me, is finding ways to incentivize those kinds of behaviors that we know will lead to protecting our planet and reducing climate change effects," he said.
On the housing end, Madrone said, there's a lot to be done "to densify our developments, to increase the amount of affordable houses that are built in those developments and to fully electrify those developments."
He also points to enhancing forest health and working to prevent and reduce catastrophic wildfires.
"I think we can produce a tremendous amount of jobs in doing forest thinning and converting those products into value-add manufactured products for our community," Madrone said, noting he understands many people see bio-mass as a major issue but new developments allow for mobile biomass conversion onsite rather than at large, centralized plants.
"Either we can let it burn catastrophically or we're going to get in and thin where we can and manage in a way that creates healthier forests and then those fuel can be converted through processes that are pretty good at protecting emissions," Madrone said.
Doss: Saying that "on a lot of levels, it's already in motion," Doss noted his experience as a harbor commissioner in saying electrification is a major player and "looking at those options for county equipment."
"It's a big ship to turn, so it can't be expected to be done overnight, but I think that's already in motion and just make sure it keeps going and if there's hiccups, you resolve those hiccups and keep the flow moving," Doss said.
He also said he believes, as time goes by, new technology "will come up with cleaner options that we don't even know about" and there are "some interesting things going on with fuels and just different options that are cleaner."
"It's maintaining what we are doing, looking at things that we can increase, where you can increase, and then just keeping your eyes open for better options even," Doss said.
NCJ: What can the county government do to promote economic growth and — with the stresses the local cannabis industry is going through — what can/should county government do to support those who already in the compliance process while cracking down on those who are not?
Madrone: Having a diverse economic base is important to avoid the boom-bust cycles that occur in areas with a heavy emphasis on just one industry, he said.
On the cannabis front, Madrone said the industry "is clearly way overregulated," noting food crops aren't even regulated at the same level. He added that there has been environmental damage, many of the famers moving forward in the compliance process "have really adopted some excellent regenerative farming approaches, and I particularly support growing outside in the ground in the sun."
Humboldt has always had a reputation for quality and the county needs to really capitalize on that niche market, like Napa does with wine and Kona does with coffee, Madrone said.
One of the most important factors for helping local farmers weather this rough period will be federal legalization, which will open doors to banking and the ability to write off business expenses "like any other business," which he believes will "make a substantial difference in the bottom line for many cannabis businesses."
As far as the Fifth District, Madrone noted successes like the Hoopa Valley Tribe's modular home company, which uses locally harvested trees.
He also pointed to projects coming down the line in the McKinleyville area, including the McKinleyville Town Center project, which Madrone describes as "just a lovely concept to create an identity for McKinleyville, a character for the town, like the plaza in Arcata or Sequoia Park or the gazebo in Eureka."
Additionally, there are plans for the Vista Point Park project, which will combine county and Caltrans property, include a visitor's center and move the onramp-offramp to Airport Road, so the popular spot with "million dollar views" can be accessed by north and southbound traffic from U.S. Highway 101.
Those projects, Madrone said, will help bring more people into McKinleyville, boosting the community's small mom-and-pop businesses, noting the Airport Business Park owner believes it will also help fill out his property with new hotels, along with possibly some high-tech industries connected to Cal Poly Humboldt.
In addition, Madrone said, Orick is "going through a revitalization on several levels," with new investment coming in, stating "it's a very exciting time for the Fifth District."
Doss: As far as economic growth, he said, Humboldt County, "is in a unique position right now," with the Cal Poly Humboldt designation, the proposed Nordic AquaFarms fish farm at the former Samoa pulp mill site, undersea fiber-optic cables landing and the possibility of Humboldt Bay becoming an offshore wind hub bringing "incredible opportunity."
Each has put a "spotlight" on Humboldt County and is likely to attract new, adjacent industries to the areas, as well as benefit local businesses.
"Finding ways to finish those and to get those new industries up and running is definitely the responsibility of the supervisors," he said, noting it's also important to be open but "smart about growth and planning" to avoid getting "overrun."
"Those are big pieces for the general economy and, as they say, all ships will rise with the tide like that coming in," Doss said.
On the cannabis issue, Doss said the board of supervisors should be advocating state and federal officials to grant the industry access to banking and the ability to write off expenses, which "will make big differences for those farmers."
Closer to home, Doss said Measure S — the county's cultivation tax — "needs to be recrafted dramatically or set aside," noting no other business is "taxed on potential."
"So we normalize that and help the cannabis farmers in the sense of that normalization, in both legalization and taxation," Doss said.
The county needs to advocate for the state to crack down on what he describes as "illegal cannabis migration or importation" into California and the illegal dispensaries that are "hurting all the farmers across the state."
Doss said he has attended countywide cannabis marketing meetings and loved the creativity he heard, but the government side needs to be straightened out to allow the farmers to do "the quality work that the legal industry is doing and then get out of the way and let them do business."
"Just sort of step away and not over regulate, which we have," Doss said, emphasizing that when he says that, it's with the expectation that "everyone" is concerned at an equal level, operating with the "environment in deep concern" and in compliance with the rules.
The election takes place on June 7.
questionnaire canvassing everything from their favorite movie to the reasons why they see themselves as the best candidate for the job. Spoiler alert: They both like cats and dogs. Check out the online version of this story at www.northcoast.journal.com.