Last week, in our annual roundup of Humboldt County's year-that-was, we lamented the fact that the winning side in November's monumental election seems unclear about what, exactly, it would like to accomplish. Business interests and ideological conservatives put a great deal of effort into getting their candidates into office this go-around, and they met with incredible, almost unimaginable, success. Their chosen representatives will now control the city of Eureka for at least the next four years, and have a pretty strong position on the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors.
But why did they bother? What, now, do they want to see done? As has been noted in this space again and again, the usual petition from these quarters doesn't go far beyond a vague cry for more jobs, or to an increase in the general level of business-friendliness, whatever that may mean. Specifics are hard to come by. Too often, their platform looks like a not-too-gussied-up version of The Secret -- visualize your desire long and well enough, and it will become so.
Yet these are serious people, and it would stand to reason that there must be more to it than that. So your correspondent called around to a couple of prominent players from this year's winning team to ask for their policy wish lists.
First up: Rob McBeth of Arcata's O&M Industries, a generous donor to the campaigns of Virginia Bass and Ryan Sundberg, incoming members of the county Board of Supervisors, and also to Frank Jager, Mike Newman and Marian Brady, who successfully competed for the mayorship and city councilhood of the City of Eureka. When asked for his list, McBeth didn't initially have anything to hand. "I can't say personally that I'm looking for policy," he said. "I'm looking for people trying to get jobs here."
Digging down, though, McBeth came up with a couple of impediments to job-creation that he thought new policy-makers might attempt to rectify. For one, he said, there is very little land available for new industry. Arcata may have a few lots available but apart from that -- nothing. "I challenge you to go down to the Fortuna area and find one or two parcels that you can go into and build a light manufacturing facility," McBeth said. Though he said he hasn't followed the general plan update process that closely, this, at least, was something that could conceivably be rectified.
Chris Crawford, president of a Eureka consultancy called Justice Served, has long been a prominent spokesman for local conservative causes, and also managed this year's successful Measure N campaign, which cleared the way for Security National's proposed Marina Center development -- at least at the level of city government.
Like McBeth, and like the movement generally, Crawford identified economic development as job one for the new administrations at the city and county levels. The next thing that should happen, he said, is that the business community -- "the people who sign the paychecks" -- should get together and hold a summit in which it could identify the things it most needs from local government. Then it could take that list to the Board of Supervisors, or whomever, he said: "We need these permitting issues addressed. We need these kinds of ombudsman services. We need these kind of land use issues."
For himself, Crawford said that he believes we should be sending trade delegations to Shasta County, to entice businesses there to avail themselves of our port and our designation as a free-trade zone.
Politically speaking, though, Crawford's bottom line was that his side absolutely has to be able to point to tangible progress on the economic development front in two years' time. Otherwise, he said, this year's gains could be easily reversed. Honestly, though -- if you're calling for big countywide summits simply to define the problem, how can you hope to accomplish something tangible in 24 months?
"If we can show a trajectory," he said, "I would be willing to stand up and justify a continuation of that trajectory."
We're getting ready to launch a super-secret new project over here at NCJ HQ, and we're looking for a few good people to help us get it off the ground. See if either or both of the following apply to you:
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