October 27, 2005
Which way, McKinleyville?
Candidates for the newly empowered CSD look at options
by BOB DORAN
SIX CANDIDATES ARE VYING FOR THREE AVAILABLE seats on the McKinleyville Community Services District board, a body that oversees water, sewage treatment and recreation in the unincorporated town, which, with a population of around 14,000, is bigger than the city of Fortuna.
Right: McKinleyville's famed totem pole. Photo by Bob Doran.
Sacramento threw a curve ball into the middle of the race in September when the governor signed Senate Bill 135, a revision of the state code governing community service districts that offers boards like the MCSD the potential for an expanded range of powers.
As Javan Reid, minister for Grace Good Shepherd Church, explained, "What 135 does is change the law [so that] the board doesn't have to go to the community to take on powers. Before we've always had to have a vote. But 135 only gives you the power; it doesn't give you the mandate of the people," or money to implement new services.
According to chiropractor Bill Wennerholm, the sole incumbent in the race, SB 135 "will affect what the board can do quite a bit. You can take on almost all of the duties of a regular city," said Wennerholm. "You can take on cemeteries, you can take on planning, roads and parks [which is] a duty we already have."
Said Dennis Mayo, a self-described horse trader, "Planning is at the top of the list," when it comes to powers the board could add. "That seems to be the thing that everyone, rightly so, is upset about. The county planning folks have let us down just immensely. They've done a poor job."
To a man, the candidates cited planning as a problem that needs improvement. Reid and Humboldt State lecturer Jeff Dunk both think the MCSD should make adding law enforcement oversight a priority.
But, said Dunk, "Ultimately the buck stops with the citizens, inasmuch as [the MCSD] can only do things they're willing to pay for. I'm willing to pay for added law enforcement here, and it's actually quite cheap. I talked with the Sheriff, and we could do it."
Despite that fact that he's a retired highway patrolman, candidate Jim Fritz does not see a need for more law enforcement presence in McKinleyville. "I think it's pretty close to adequate," he said.
While he is still studying SB 135, he figures, "The [board is] not going to be able to take on too much more because we still don't have a tax base."
Fritz thinks the MCSD is "doing a pretty good job under [MCSD General Manager Tom] Markings' guidance, there. I'm not looking to change the direction."
Asked if he thinks the board is headed in the right direction, Wennerholm quickly answered yes, then launched into an attack on Local Solutions, the progressive political action committee that endorsed two of his opponents.
"Both Javan Reid and Jeff Dunk are running as part of Local Solutions, which has an agenda," said Wennerholm, who proceeded to raise the specter of political consultant Richard Salzman. "Certainly the political ideology is very, very similar," he said, conceding that Salzman has no apparent ties to Local Solutions and has not really been a visible presence in the MCSD race.
Dunk was surprised to hear that Wennerholm sees a Local Solutions endorsement as a negative thing. Like all of the MCSD candidates, Wennerholm was invited to meet with the group and present his views. "In fact, my interview was right after Bill's," said Dunk. "He walked out of the office as I was arriving. I don't see it as a negative, really. I think it's great that some folks I really didn't know thought my ideas were good."
Wennerholm suggests that the MCSD is already "progressive" and points to the district's two recently built treatment marshes as examples. "Everybody's loving [the marshes]. They're real proactive things and, believe it or not, those candidates [Dunk and Reid] are against them because they think they're going to promote growth."
Dunk disagreed with Wennerholm's characterization of him as "anti-growth," and, he emphasized, he never opposed the marshes. "In fact, I pushed for the marsh 13 years ago, before Bill even lived here, at a time when the board effectively said, `Arcata has a marsh; we can't have a marsh.'"
"I'm not for unrestrained growth," Dunk continued. "I'm for developing the town in a way that does not degrade McKinleyville's positive attributes. You have to ask, what is the cost to our quality of life?"
While Wennerholm claims Reid voted against both marshes when he was on the board, Reid says that's not true. He did not oppose the marshes --- what he opposed was a proposal to finance the system by selling capacity in the storm drainage marsh to developers.
"I think we need to plan for growth and [the board should] play a more responsible role in growth," said Reid. Noting that the population of McKinleyville has tripled since he moved here in 1985, he characterized the town growth as "haphazard," due to a lack of coherent planning from the county. "A lot of the growth was not guided."
Of late, Dennis Mayo is best know as a leader in the battle against limiting access to Clam Beach. "I get colored as being some kind of anti-environmentalist, and that's absolutely insane," he said, pointing out that he worked to pass Prop. 20, the "Save the Coast" initiative. "What I'm looking for is balance. Independent thought and an honest give-and-take aren't valued much any more."
Jaime Christopher is the only candidate who has said that incorporation should be a top priority. He sees SB 135 as a step in that direction. "It's phenomenal. What it does, instead of having communities be either unincorporated or take on all the responsibilities that come with incorporation, you can do it in stages. Essentially, you can take it a duty at a time and pay for it yourself."
Does SB 135 preclude the need to pursue incorporation? "Absolutely not," said Christopher, who feels that the MCSD board should take the lead in the move toward city-hood.
A registered Libertarian since 1972, Wennerholm says he prefers "less government," so it's no surprise that he does not favor incorporation. "Everybody I ever talked to was in favor of incorporation --- until you told them it's going to raise taxes. Then they want nothing to do with it."
"I can't see it," said Mayo regarding incorporation. "How are we going to pay for it? We just don't have the tax base to cover the immensity of things that come with incorporation. But I know there's a lot of people that want it. And I want to be clear, I'm an opinionated S.O.B., but if I get elected to this position, it ain't gonna be the Dennis Mayo show. I'm working for the community." l
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