Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Ancient Study Returns from the Dead [Updated]

Posted By on Tue, Dec 18, 2012 at 4:16 PM

UPDATE: On Tuesday the board voted to support the resolution 3-2, with Supervisors Lovelace and Clendenen opposing.

Public comment was almost unanimously in support of the resolution, though Harbor Commissioner Richard Marks said he had "some issues" with it and wished it had been brought to the harbor district first.

Lovelace and Clendenen said they were uncomfortable getting ahead of the harbor district, and Lovelace suggested waiting for the results of the Prosperity 2012 process.

Lovelace also expressed concern about the language of the resolution, which, as mentioned below, appears to commit the board to at least two year-long planning processes.

Supervisor Bass asked County Counsel Wendy Chaitin to weigh in on the matter. Chaitin said that, yes, the board would be committing to the processes outlined in the resolution but that, since no other jurisdiction is likely to call them out should they fail to follow through, the commitment doesn't matter much. "You're only committing that to yourselves," Chaitin said.

No mention was made of any commitment to their constituents.

Original post:

Tuesday afternoon, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors will consider a resolution that at first glance looks like a simple declaration of "Yay jobs! Let's go get us some!"

But the document (pdf here) would appear to commit the county to a variety of ambitious economic development projects based on some dubious claims made in an economic report from 1997, back when Bill Clinton was president, Titanic ruled the box office and The Spice Girls were tearing up the charts.

The resolution, which was prepared by an amorphous citizens committee called the Humboldt Bay Harbor Working Group, is nearly identical to one that's been making the rounds of local city councils, with vocal support from east-west rail advocates. It is being brought to the board by First District Supervisor Rex Bohn and Fourth District Supervisor Virginia Bass.

As we reported back in August, the document cites figures from a 15- (now almost 16-) year-old report by the late U.C. Berkeley economist Dr. John Quigley, who had been hired by the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District to analyze the financial impact of a variety of port development projects. These included deepening the harbor, which has since been completed. At the time the report was written, the north-south rail line through the Eel River Canyon was still up and running.

Even when the report was released in January 1997, Quigley's rosy projections of our harbor's economic potential were deemed by many to be unrealistic. (See this 1997 Journal story or this 1998 memo to business leaders written by Gregg Foster, then with the Humboldt Area Foundation.) In the years since, the Harbor District has updated its economic strategy several times, including a 2007 strategic plan that relied on more current data and analysis.

The Quigley report is so old that the harbor district doesn't even keep it around anymore.

The Journal sent an email to each supervisor this morning asking for comment on the resolution.

Second District Supervisor Clif Clendenen said he wanted to check with the harbor district -- the designated lead agency for all things port-related -- to make sure the resolution dovetails with its efforts, but he had yet to do so.

Third District Supervisor Mark Lovelace said, "I am concerned about the use of old and un-verifiable data, but I'm also concerned about bypassing both the Harbor District and our ongoing Prosperity 2012 process, and committing the County to two separate year-long planning processes without any defined scope, budget or staffing."

The processes Lovelace refers to are laid out in the resolution's six action items, which follow a long string of WHEREASes. The first process would commit the county to "developing within one year a cohesive and coordinated marketing plan ... to attract maritime-oriented businesses to Humboldt Bay." 

The second process would have the county work with the harbor district to "create a one-year planning process" to boost port activity by 2025.

Port marketing and development are already within the purview of the harbor district.

The resolution also asks the board to commit to supporting -- and promoting -- a rail connection to the national rail system, deep-draft container shipping, an offshore fishing reef, a marine highway and more.

We have yet to hear from Supervisors Bohn, Bass or Fifth District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg.

We also sent an email to Susana Munzell, the Humboldt Bay Harbor Working Group's citizen leader, asking why her group is relying on the Quigley report rather than a more recent analysis. We'll update you if she responds.

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Ryan Burns

Ryan Burns

Ryan Burns worked for the Journal from 2008 to 2013, covering a diverse mix of North Coast subjects, from education, politics and marijuana to human suspension, sex parties and amateur fight contests. He won awards for investigative reporting, feature stories and news coverage.

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