Members of the McKinleyville Community Watch group were able to secure a town hall meeting with State Senator Mike McGuire and other local figures such as Sheriff Mike Downey, District Attorney Maggie Fleming and Chief Probation Officer William Damiano
last night. McGuire’s presence was due to the request of Supervisor Ryan Sundberg, who said the senator was between stops and it was “good timing.”
McGuire took a few minutes before speaking to congratulate Aaron Ostrom, who started the McKinleyville Community Watch group on Facebook in 2013, saying the community group had “really grown.”
“I feel really good about this,” said Ostrom. He introduced the panel of speakers to a crowd of around 80 local residents, saying he was proud of the organization and its work. On Oct. 24 group members gathered for a 90-minute “trash mob” in which they cleaned up 3,000 to 4,000 pounds of trash. Supervisor Sundberg donated a 20 foot dumpster for disposal.
In his remarks, McGuire said the group was “a model for other communities” and thanked Ostrom and Sundberg for their work. He then gave an overview of the challenges facing California in general and Humboldt County in particular, speaking optimistically of the potential for legalized marijuana to bring revenue into the region.
McGuire will join North Coast Assemblyman Jim Wood in attempting to reattach an excise tax to upcoming marijuana regulations.
The senator also said he voted against two bills related to the state’s homeless, one being the so-called “right to rest” bill SB 608 and the another that would allow homeless people to sleep in their cars without police interference. Neither bill passed this year. McGuire said they “would have not allowed cities to enforce their existing laws.” He also said he would be looking closely at the “PalCo Marsh issue,” but did not give details.
Hillary Mosher, founder of the Humboldt Mobilehome Owners Association
, asked McGuire if he had any response to the Board of Supervisors’ refusal to discuss rent stabilization for mobile home parks. She said Sundberg had suggested she attend and address the senator on the topic. Mosher, who was accompanied by several other HMOA members holding white helium balloons with red lettering that said “Save Our Seniors,” has said the board is failing to uphold the county’s General Plan, which mandates preservation of mobile home parks as a source of affordable housing.
McGuire said that lack of affordable housing was a “significant issue” across California and that he believes redevelopment would address the problem.
Community members addressed the panel at length on the subject of crime and Prop. 47, saying the lack of repercussions for misdemeanor crimes has contributed to a sense of lawlessness in their town.
Kevin Jenkins, owner of McKinleyville Ace Hardware, says his business lost $200,000 worth of merchandise due to theft in 2014. Prior to Prop. 47 employees would hold thieves while waiting for law enforcement, but now emboldened criminals just walk away or tell employees to leave them alone when apprehended, he said.
“It’s come to be such a common part of our business and our community, it’s frustrating,” said Jenkins.
Fleming said she understood how disheartening the situation must be, and that her office was researching the potential of a “restitution court” similar to the one in Alameda County, which monitors those convicted of theft to ensure they are paying back what they owe.
Damiano added that Prop. 47 would soon be paying off in the form of money returned to the community for drug treatment
“Quite frankly, we did a bad job at educating the public on Prop. 47,” he said, adding that the criminals released under the realignment effort — usually low level drug offenders and petty thieves — were statistically “more likely to reoffend” than murderers.
Downey added his gratitude for voters who had supported Measure Z, saying the additional money had helped him rebuild his staff to levels unseen in close to a decade. The measure started with a working group in McKinleyville, and the district will be one of the first to get additional officers.
Additional law enforcement may help address some issues, but as one woman said, “I can’t call the sheriff every time I see a dope on a bike he probably stole.”
So Sundberg turned the microphone over to Ginger Campbell, who organizes Neighborhood Watch
groups for the sheriff’s office. She gave a few tips on home safety, including removing items from your car and installing lights with motion sensors.
“All those do is help them see my car better,” grumbled one man, but Campbell had a crowd of people clustered around her at the end of the presentation, asking about setting up groups in their neighborhoods.
Colleen Ridlon, who attended the meeting with her husband and their young son, said that the McKinleyville Community Watch group has been an “attracting mechanism for people with similar issues.”
What she and others want, she said, is to have back the McKinleyville of their childhood, where they could walk home through the park after school.
“Just being active in the community makes it easy for us to see there are people who think alike,” she said.