ON THE COVER North Coast Journal Weekly

Who's taking the 5th District?


Election 2002IF THE VOTERS OF THE 5TH DISTRICT WERE HIRING A NEW EMPLOYEE and the résumés of all six candidates were spread on the table, John Corbett would easily top the list as most qualified. After all, he's had the job before. In 1976, at the age of 26, he was appointed to fill out the term of Supervisor Don Peterson, who had been hired by the College of the Redwoods as an administrator.


Corbett, an attorney by trade, also has served on the California Coastal Commission, was a federal magistrate judge specializing in fishing rights, and currently sits on the Regional Water Quality Control Board. He has successfully managed not one but two very large businesses -- an $83 million warehouse operation in the Bay Area and for the last 18 years -- the North Coast Co-op, with more than $15 million is sales last year. His list of community volunteer activities -- from the Humboldt Child Care Council to the McKinleyville Land Trust's new vernal pool project -- couldn't possibly fit on a page of single-spaced type. One of his volunteer gigs this past 10 years was serving on the county's budget task force. He understands trust fund accounts and fund balance forwards probably better than most the supervisors already sitting on the dais.

"My wife says he should be running for state office," said Mike Harvey, a McKinleyville insurance agent who is also running for 5th District supervisor, in a moment of candor.

But fickle voters don't always pick the most qualified candidate. Plus, Corbett entered the race late, after he retired from the Co-op in December. And his last few years of managing the large, sometimes unruly cooperative grocery store were somewhat contentious. First, the remodel of the flagship store in Arcata ran overbudget and once it reopened, restless workers won a vote to unionize.

John Corbett


54, attorney, retired general manager of the North Coast Co-op.

4th generation Humboldt County; managed an $83 million food warehouse in Bay Area; managed the Co-op for 18 years. Appointed by three different governors to fill vacancies: Humboldt County Board of Supervisors (1976), California Coastal Commission (1976) and Regional Water Quality Board (2001). Community service: Air Quality Hearing Board, County Budget Task Force, Humboldt Child Care Council, Taxpayers League, Co-op Foundation, Union Labor Health Foundation, College of the Redwood Foundation.

"It's the budget." Period. Deteriorating roads, lack of rural law enforcement are budget problems. "Government pretends to balance budgets by not doing maintenance. It's not just the county; it's very clear it goes on in the school districts. And it's wrong."

Headwaters money?
Primary use should be infrastructure, possibly airport improvement or a marine terminal. Venture capital fund is too risky. "Bill Gates, Yakima ... couldn't get the time of day until after they were successful. It's hard for government to be as smart as business."
Railroad: "We should expend every effort to make the railroad operational, but we need to monitor the economics." McKinleyville growth: Need to continue good land-use planning. Preserve agricultural lands.
McKinleyville incorporation: Favors incorporation following positive vote of the people.
Parks/trails: "Parks and trails add significantly to the quality of life."
Accepting CAMP money: If Humboldt County turns down the funds, it loses control of enforcement. The feds could step in. Keep the money and enforce strict airspace regulations.

"I really know budget issues at the county level. No other candidate comes close to my level of experience and knowledge of county-wide issues."

Expects to spend $17,500 ($10,000 of his own) in the primary.

Corbett said he stands on his lifetime record of meeting budgets that included 11 major construction projects.

"Only one went above the budget," he said. "Every person running for supervisor will be faced with a construction project going over budget at some time. The issue is, was the problem immediately responded to."

Corbett says yes. Due to a newer interpretation of the Americans with Disabilities Act --other words, an elevator had to be installed after all --a board of directors that tried to keep everyone employed no matter what during the nine-month remodel, Corbett was faced with slashing $400,000 out of the Co-op's budget in a single year. It was painful, but he did it and today the store is back in the black and sales have rebounded. As far as employee unionization, Corbett said he is supportive of workers' rights, union or no.

If voters don't just pick a candidate on qualifications, how about specific, measurable accomplishments? That's the platform that Ben Shepherd is running on even though he has had two unsuccessful tries for 5th District supervisor in the past.

It is said that McKinleyville, with its 14,000 citizens, is the largest noncity in the county. Growing pains? Big time. But many who have followed the town's growth over the last two decades give the community some high marks for achievement. Water, sewer and improved drainage came first, followed by expansion of the wastewater system. Parks and recreation were built and financed along with the family-friendly Hammond Trail. A nice senior center and programs were established and expanded. A branch library built. McKinleyville has affordable housing that serves as a bedroom community for Arcata, its growth-shy neighbor to the south. And yes, those chain stores provide many of the basic necessities of life -- like burgers, fries, hair spray and socks.

Ben Shepherd


59, retired elementary teacher, lives in McKinleyville.

Retired in 1998 from Trinidad Elementary after 32 years; owner of Split Rock Ventures, economic and demographic analysis service. Community service: 20 years on the board of the McKinleyville Community Services District; 20 years on the Redwood Region Economic Development Commission. Headed Measures A and B for McKinleyville recreational and senior facilities, and library initiative.

"My highest priorities are roads and public safety."

Headwaters money:
Use $5 million of the $22 million for a venture capital fund; additional revolving loans to small businesses through an agency such as the Redwood Regional Economic Development Commission.
Rural law enforcement: "We need to get the McKinleyville law enforcement facility staffed."
Water issues: "We have to keep fighting to get the water back into the rivers." McKinleyville growth: "McKinleyville has worked to meet its needs ... parks, recreation, senior center, library, law enforcement facility."
McKinleyville incorporation: "A feasibility study would cost about $100,000. There doesn't seem to be any source of funding at this time." Trails: "What we have is a flawed process. 100 miles of trails [as first proposed] was too much. The midtown trail is an example of a poor decision. It polarized the community. We should do what we did with recreational facilities, ask the community if they want an assessment to build an urban trail system and maintain it."
Accepting CAMP money: Yes. "I am a rural property owner. I had to call the CAMP team once."

"I have learned in my 20 years in elected office that you must focus on the community good and you must not be paralyzed by controversy."

Estimates about $26,000. Says his backers include nearly every major private employer in the county including Simpson Timber Co., Sierra Pacific, Sun Valley Floral Farms.

How about Ben Shepherd? He was there on the board of the McKinleyville Community Services District for 20 years, chairing the committee for Measure A to establish recreation powers or pushing for Measure J, the library. It all happened on his watch, which means he's taking credit for it all in this election.

In addition, Shepherd was sitting on the board of the Redwood Region Economic Development Commission for the same 20 years, and RREDC is doing nicely these days, loaning money to marginal business ventures and helping to implement the county's overall strategy for economic development.

But just as citizens don't just vote solely on qualifications, they don't vote solely on accomplishments either. Sometimes they vote on something intangible, like EQ -- emotional quotient. Which brings up a discussion of a pair of political newcomers nipping at the heels of Corbett and Shepherd -- two 36-year-olds who went to school together at Morris Elementary in McKinleyville -- Mike Harvey and Jill Geist.

Harvey and Geist are quite different. Harvey's Humboldt roots, like John Corbett's, are four generations deep. And he calls himself conservative.

"Technically, I'm the only Republican in the race even though it's a non-partisan office," he said. He has an army of family volunteers who have been out and about with petitions of support throughout the 5th District. Personally, he has logged a lot of face-to-face time with clients to whom he sells insurance.

Geist -- a bit of a rebel who still rides a motorcycle and horses in her off-time but has reportedly given up surfing and skateboards&nbsp-- is more of a policy wonk. She modestly boasts of her ability to read technical reports and make sense of them. She says her science background is an asset when it comes to finding solutions to public policy.

Both Geist and Harvey credit outgoing Supervisor Paul Kirk with doing a reasonably good job for the district, but said he didn't always listen carefully to constituents, especially in the rural reaches of the large district.

Geist served for two years with Shepherd before he retired from McKinleyville services district board. She said she sometimes had issues with how people were treated when Shepherd was chair.

"It was the manner in which people were treated when they showed up before the board over a hot-button issue," Geist said. "I believe we are there to serve the public first and foremost."

One parent recalled the time there was an controversy over skateboard damage in the park and staff was proposing a ban on pretty much anything with wheels in Azalea Park.

"We had an audience full of kids and their parents," Geist said. "Rather than going ahead and doing the decent thing, taking the item off the agenda and moving it up earlier in the evening, [Shepherd] refused to do it" and those who waited it out were there until past 10 p.m. on a school night.

Harvey, who is loathe to say anything negative about anyone, agrees with Geist that the district needs someone who "is a good listener and treats people with respect."

Mike Harvey


36, insurance agency owner with offices in McKinleyville and Willow Creek, lives in Blue Lake.

4th generation Humboldt County; business degree from Humboldt State; community volunteer, coaches basketball.

Adequate representation. "Eastern Humboldt is totally ignored. It's the forgotten stepchild."

Rural law enforcement:
"Safety, security is the most important service the county provides. Decentralize services. Put [law enforcement] in the markets where they need to work."
Headwaters money: Low-interest loans, possibly some venture capital and/or infrastructure such as a small convention center.
County roads: "The budget's the budget. Maybe we could try some cheaper overlays on the roads."
McKinleyville incorporation: "It's up to the people. I can see some benefit and I can see one more layer of government." Orick concerns: "There were some issues camping on the beach, gathering wood in county parks, fishing access and transfer of fishing rights. Communication [should have been] open earlier."

"The most important thing is I am in touch with people in every corner of this district. Why does Blanche Blankenship in Orick support me? Gloria Thompson in Blue Lake? The majority of the tribal council in Hoopa? The apple farm people in Fieldbrook, Grant Ramey? They trust me."

Not taking donations of money in the primary only plywood and paint. "I have my whole family working on this: my second cousin, Carole St. John she's a Sutter my great aunt, Dorothy Birnie."
Jill Geist


36, environmental compliance analyst for the city of Arcata, lives in McKinleyville.

From Los Angeles, moved to McKinleyville to attend elementary school, high school and Humboldt State. Community service: Citizens advisory committee for McKinleyville general plan update, McKinleyville Community Services District, Redwood Region Economic Development Commission, Humboldt Bay Shellfish Technical Advisory Committee, Redwood National Park Association.

"Representation. Constituents are not being listened to. Look at Walton Paving in Blue Lake asphalt trucks running day and night. It wasn't until it reached a crisis. Same thing for Redwood National Park. ... Agencies have a bureaucratic speak. Public input is often from an emotional base. They have to connect."

Headwaters money:
"Venture capital, no. Loans, OK." Infrastructure? "Maybe, but it won't go far."
McKinleyville growth: "It's phenomenal, not that it's bad as long as it's well planned. That's all you can ask."
McKinleyville incorporation: "We need to look at it. If it's something the community wants, we can raise the money for a feasibility study. It may turn out to be a no-net [revenue balancing expenses] and that could make incorporation very real."
County budget: "It's under better control than five years ago. I would like to see discretionary funds returned to their original purposes, like the tobacco money [that was spent partially on roads]."
Rural law enforcement: "I was mortified when there was that meeting in King Salmon and no sheriff. We're got to do more to pull together."
Water/river issues: "We need a [water] policy coordinator like Trinity County. We don't have any one person paying attention." Accepting CAMP money: Yes, but the sheriff needs to be responsive to citizens' complaints.

"From a technical perspective, I have the ability to critically evaluate plans. I can read through a report and say, that's not going to work or, how do we implement this? A lot of times it's about taking an existing policy, modifying it and making it honor its original intent. "
Expects to spend $6,000 in the primary.

Also in the race are two men who are relative newcomers to the district, as was Paul Kirk when he first ran to succeed Anna Sparks.

Vic Taylor, who has been on the county's Human Rights Commission, is often seen shaking hands at chamber of commerce meetings or Lions Club breakfasts sporting an American flag tie and a union pin on his lapel. Taylor happens to have an insider's view of one big county department. After he retired as an administrative analyst for Pacific Bell in 1992, he went to work in a similar capacity for county mental health and now works primarily for the new combined department that provides social and health services to the county's youth.

And then there's Daniel Pierce who says he was thrust into the race after an unpleasant encounter with a pair of deputy sheriffs when they showed up at the wrong house with guns drawn.

All the candidates said they have learned a lot from each other and after two months of hard campaigning, they've even formed a special bond.

"Everybody brings something different to the table," Harvey said. "Ben brings a broad range of experience, so does Corbett -- totally different approaches. Vic's a nice guy. Daniel bring up some good points. And Jill -- I like Jill. She's my friend. She was so nervous at the KEET debate. They had to tell her to spit her gum out before she went on the air."

Corbett was equally complimentary of Harvey.

"I learned a lot from him at the forum in Orick. He's really good at connecting with people." And win or lose, Corbett was philosophical:

"We've got some good people in this race."

Vic Taylor

57, administrative analyst for county mental health, lives in Trinidad.

Moved to Humboldt County in 1990; retired in 1992 as administrative analyst for Pacific Bell. Currently a labor steward for county employees. Community involvement: Trinidad Lions Club, Visitor's Bureau, Human Rights commissioner. Worked on Paul Kirk's campaign last election.

Improve the quality of the county employee base. "We have a really high turnover. People find jobs that pay more, they are frustrated. We don't have the training; we don't have supervisors who understand the contracts. We need to focus on service improvement."

Rural law enforcement:
The sheriff calls the shots. "The board has no authority."
Headwaters money: Keep $14-$16 million to generate interest; fund more revolving loans; infrastructure only after cost/benefit analysis.
Water/river issues: "County doesn't have a lot of leverage. We need to continue to partner with others like the Round Valley tribe on the Eel River."
McKinleyville growth: "I'm not sure I buy into the talk that it is a boom town. Yes, it's different now than 20 years ago, but it's also not referred to as Oklahoma by the Sea very often anymore."
McKinleyville incorporation: "The cards are probably stacked against it [financially]. I'd like to see an advisory vote."
Trails: "They're great, but they need to be more along the roadways, less like the Silkwood subdivision where we've had a lot of vandalism."
Accepting CAMP money: A qualified yes. No helicopters too low "creating a war zone."

"I am the only one to advocate that we need to have a cultural officer within the county to take away the stigma that the tribes are in the minority, that they feel they have no access, that they are invisible."

Plans to spend about $5,000 ($3,500 of his own) in the primary.
Daniel Pierce


43, handyman, self-employed, lives in McKinleyville.

Born in San Diego, moved to Southern Humboldt in late '70s and became a partner in a marijuana-growing operation on an 80-acre parcel. "Everyone was growing. The people below us were pornography people from San Francisco. The people above us were Hare Krishnas." After a two-year trip to India, he returned and became a truck driver and mechanic. Was employed at the Cummings Road landfill until injured in 1988. Today, "I own my own home, I grow my own food, I wheel and deal."

Marijuana. "If you don't know by now, I'm the one who is trying to legalize marijuana and stop CAMP from wrecking the community and taking away our civil rights." Besides, "It's a religious-freedom issue."

Railroad: Open the railroad from Arcata to Scotia for passengers.
Rural law enforcement: "Let's arm citizens with video cameras."
Citizens police oversight committee: "Absolutely. We are wasting our time prosecuting citizens who don't need to be prosecuted."
McKinleyville growth: "There's no stopping it. I like Kmart, except when all the mud went into Mill Creek."
McKinleyville incorporation: "It ain't going to happen. There's no [tax] base. The only thing missing is police protection, but we seem to be doing a good job of community watch."
Headwaters money: Plant trees. "Use it for seed money and plant trees everywhere public property, private property. Then in 40 years, we'll have trees."
Economic development: "Humboldt County needs a [marijuana] cooperative just like Wall Street, with prices going up and down, bringing people together who are buying and selling cannabis. Now people use chemicals and pesticides and buyers don't know what they're getting."
Accepting CAMP money: "No, no, no."

"God pushed me into this race. These other guys are looking for a title, I'm looking for a job."

Says he has spent nothing on campaign. Paid his own filing and candidate statement fees.


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