Friday, September 30, 2022

PlanCo to Consider Formal Letter of Apology to Wiyot Area Tribes

Posted By on Fri, Sep 30, 2022 at 5:23 PM

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The Humboldt County Planning Commission will consider Thursday sending a letter of apology to three Wiyot area tribes after Commission Chair Alan Bongio’s comments during its Aug. 18 meeting, which tribal officials found deeply offensive.

After a representative for local developer Travis Schneider accused the Wiyot Tribe and Blue Lake Rancheria representatives of lying during the Aug. 18 meeting, Bongio launched into several rants, during which he accused the two local tribes of negotiating in bad faith, reneging on an agreement and playing a “game” with cultural resources, while repeatedly using the term “Indians” in reference to multiple local tribes. The comments caused tribal officials to walk away from the meeting deeply offended, with Wiyot Tribal Chair Ted Hernandez saying he’d lost faith in the Planning Commission and a Blue Lake Rancheria spokesperson questioning whether it could fairly decide the matter.

At the next Planning Commission meeting on Sept. 1, Bongio apologized to the tribes — without specifically naming them — if he “in any away offended them.” At the same meeting, Commissioner Noah Levy offered his own personal apology and said he’d like to see the Planning Commission consider drafting a “formal apology,” and Bongio indicated he’d “be willing to be part of that.”

The agenda packet for the commission’s Oct. 6 meeting does not indicate who worked on the letter but includes a draft, which is vague in certain respects, failing to specify who made the offending comments.

“This letter is written to express our sincere apology to the Wiyot People,” it states. “At the Planning Commission meeting of Aug. 18, 2022, comments were made that were inappropriate. We as a body recognize that these were insensitive, racist and biased. The comments added to past injury and injustices resulting from governmental actions. We as the Humboldt County Planning Commission did nothing to address the problem in the moment so we are all responsible. We understand this has damaged the relationship between the Planning Commission and the Wiyot People. We apologize for each of our roles in this event and ask for your forgiveness.”

The letter concludes by asking the tribes, if they would be willing, to schedule a meeting outside of the courthouse so the commissioners can “hear from you, grow in our understanding and seek restoration.”

The draft letter comes before the Planning Commission a week after Bongio said at a meeting of the Humboldt Community Services District board, on which he sits as president, that he’d said his “apologies” for his comments and been told they “didn’t mean anything,” adding that his “conscience is clear” and he’s moving forward. A motion to remove Bongio from his role as board president in response to his conduct at the Aug. 18 Planning Commission meeting then died for lack of a second.

Discussion of the apology letter also comes at the Planning Commission’s first meeting since the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to censure Bongio and ask that he resign his position as the commission’s chair. To date, Bongio has given no public indication whether he intends to do so, though First District Supervisor Rex Bohn, who appointed him to the commission, said he would rescind his appointment entirely if Bongio does not resign from chair of the commission.

Meanwhile, the problems surrounding the project Bongio was attempting to advance — construction of Schneider's family home after numerous permit violations — at the Aug. 18 meeting have only worsened.

The Planning Commission meets at 6 p.m. Oct. 6 in the Humboldt County Courthouse. The meeting is open to the public, and can be viewed remotely here.
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Thadeus Greenson

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Thadeus Greenson is the news editor of the North Coast Journal.

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