June 8th two Supervisors will walk into their second term with no real competition. What happened?
Those that could or should be fighting against this have been silenced, not by others, but by ourselves. We’ve tried and failed and found the rhetoric and power of those in charge just enough to fall in line.
The Democratic establishment in Assembly-member Woods and State Senator McGuire came out early endorsing local conservative Supervisor Rex Bohn for the 1st District. No citizen stepped up to run against Rex. The local Democratic Central Committee endorsed local incumbent Democratic Supervisor Estelle Fennell for the June 7th election. Courageous and wonderful but ultimately un-electable wood-worker and musician Glen Rogers is Estelle’s only competition.
These two Southern Humboldt Supervisors were elected in part during the final hurrah of Tea-Party politics in 2012 because they promised a libertarian view of populism. The truth behind their power is always veiled as much as possible. Rex’s conservatism isn’t Republican, he is (last I checked) No Party Preference insuring that those who are not paying close attention don’t ask any questions – say, for example, two prominent Democrats.
Supervisor Fennell will never proactively mention her previous work with local property rights advocacy group Humboldt Coalition for Property Rights even though this past helps define to a T her guiding governing philosophy and actions over the past 4 years. This includes of course bringing two HumCPR partners to the Planning Commission. This combined with Supervisor Bohn’s and Bass’ nomination of a local construction workers and Supervisor Sundberg’s nomination of his campaign manager, business owner and previously very active advocate on most matters of land planning laid the ground work for a land use planning process that insures that government protection for natural resources, including agriculture and open space is at the very best now subject as much to market fluctuations and necessities as it is to any public mandate to protect.
Here is what Supervisor Fennell answered when asked during the recent debate on KEET “What is your philosophy on open space and agricultural land” she said this…(see 17:20 min in)
“I think we need to protect open space and agricultural land. We’ve gone very very far in doing that in our General Plan Update (GPU) and I think we will see more of that as that comes into implementation…. I think you are going to see lots of good policies that are going to address the issue of preserving open space and also preserving the areas between municipalities to give that feeling that is so precious to us in Humboldt County. We’ve got lots of open space for us to enjoy and we want to protect it.”
But doesn’t this contradict, prima facie, what Supervisors Fennell and Bohn brought to the Board on June 3rd, 2013? As I’ve written about ad infinitum, Estelle and Rex rushed to the board a new set of Guiding Principles to the GPU which gutted the work of demonstrably more public process. The changes literally removed any government mandate, no matter how weak in reality, to “protect” agriculture. The also added flowery meaningless language which in-effect removed any mandate to protect open space. From the North Coast Journal:
Guiding Principle #6:
- Original: Protect agriculture and timberland over the long-term, using measures such as increased restrictions on resource land subdivisions and patent parcel development.
- June 3 revision: Encourage, incentivize and support agriculture, timber and compatible uses on resource lands. (“Protect” is gone.)
Guiding Principle #7:
- Original: Protect natural resources, especially open space, water resources, water quality, scenic beauty, and salmonid habitat.
- June 3 revision: Honor landowners’ rights to live in urban, suburban, rural or remote areas of the county while using a balanced approach to protect natural resources, especially open space, water resources, fisheries habitat and water quality in cooperation with state and federal agencies. (“Protect” is now balanced with honoring land-owners.)
I’ve asked both Supervisors directly how they came up with the revisions and neither would answer the question directly. A very important aspect of public participation is public accountability, and on this critical change in the nature of the GPU, there is no accountability. Both Supervisors understand if there had been, their re-election would have been more difficult.
So Estelle must be able to admit to herself, if not to us, that on some level she is being disingenuous to promote herself as someone who is working to have government be responsible for protecting natural resources and open space. Having spoken to Estelle about this and having argued this topic online and in-person with former like-minded advocates such as Peter Childs and Lee Ulansey I believe the way Estelle squares the circle when she says this “I think you are going to see lots of good policies that are going to address the issue of preserving open space and also preserving the areas between municipalities to give that feeling that is so precious to us in Humboldt County” is that in her mind, the new coordination between private and public will be much more effective than the previous status quo of no action.
What she won’t say of course that the movement forward from no action to property-owner-approved action was based entirely on the intransigence and power of her former employer and those it represented.
In other words, now that they are in control of the process or at the very least they are honored by those in control, property owners will in the future work with government and environmentalists concerns about protecting open space and natural resources.
Imagine for a moment what would have happened if those already economically less “honored” by our society, say, renters or the homeless had this kind of power to change the laws. For one, if by some miracle those without economic means in our society were able to grasp power for an election, we’d surely hear about it during the next election.
But there won’t be any push-back this election. On June 8th, both Supervisors will find themselves with 4 more years at their job. (to include their self-imposed $7,000 annual raise ). One Supervisor will have won an election against an un-electable opponent and the other will have won without competition.
What happened to democracy, or for that matter the public participation that both candidates ran on in 2012? Quite simply, it has been co-opted by the green-rush, by job creators and by property owners. All of these constituents have a great deal more at stake in these elections than the public at large does, at least on paper, and when push comes to shove they have the time, resources and motivation to play a game the left either can’t or won’t play.
And sadly, the people’s political party, the Democrats, have found it worth while to endorse those that ended-up on top as a result of process. Going forward, we have to ask the question … why?