Business / Economy

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Coastal Commission: If Trinidad Rancheria Can Find Water, it Can Build its Hotel

Posted By on Sat, Aug 10, 2019 at 8:29 AM

The California Coastal Commission went against the recommendation of its staff Thursday and gave the Trinidad Rancheria the go-ahead — or a “conditional concurrence” — to build a five-story hotel on its property off Scenic Drive south of the city.

This means that the Coastal Commission, which is tasked by law with protecting the California coastline, will not stand in the way of the Bureau of Indian Affairs granting the Rancheria a lease and a loan guarantee so that the project can start. The “conditional” part of the concurrence means the commission is giving the Rancheria six months to come up with a reliable water source — either through an agreement with the city of Trinidad or by proving its newly drilled well has the capability to provide the 14,000 gallons of of potable water per day that the hotel will require without draining neighboring wells. According to Trinidad Rancheria CEO Jacque Hostler-Carmesin, the well can produce 8,040 gallons per day.

An artistic rendering created by the Trinidad Rancheria of what its proposed Scenic Drive hotel project would look like from Trinidad Bay. - TRINIDAD RANCHERIA
  • Trinidad Rancheria
  • An artistic rendering created by the Trinidad Rancheria of what its proposed Scenic Drive hotel project would look like from Trinidad Bay.
The decision came at the very end of an eight-hour meeting, much of which was devoted to the problems of other communities along California’s long coastline. By the time the hotel project was heard, the audience, which earlier in the day had overflowed the Wharfinger building’s main hall, had largely thinned out. Nonetheless, enough members of the public stayed to fill an hour with comments praising or criticizing the project.

The commission had also previously received about 190 public weighing in an all sides of the hotel.

This is the third time the hotel proposal has appeared before the commission. The previous two times, the commission objected to the proposal, effectively blocking it. Like all federally recognized tribes, the Trinidad Rancheria has the legal status of a sovereign nation, meaning it is not subject to state or local authority, which includes the California Coastal Commission. However, it is subject to the authority of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). In order to approve a project, the BIA has to affirm that the project will not conflict with any state laws, hence the need for the Coastal Commission’s “concurrence.”

An artistic rendering of the proposed hotel project at Cher-Ae Heights Casino off Scenic Drive south of Trinidad. - SUBMITTED
  • SUBMITTED
  • An artistic rendering of the proposed hotel project at Cher-Ae Heights Casino off Scenic Drive south of Trinidad.
The issue that has drawn the most public attention has been the hotel’s size and corporate appearance. Many residents — and some who live outside the area but vacation here — feel the hotel would clash with the serene forested look of the Trinidad Bay coastline.

The issue of most concern to the commission, however, was not the building’s appearance but the lack of a confirmed water source for the project.

The Rancheria hopes to be able to hook up to the city of Trinidad’s municipal water system but the city is unsure of its ability to meet the future needs of its own residents. It has commissioned a series of studies that will not be completed until December and the city has said it will not make any commitments to other entities before that time.

The amount of water reportedly needed by the hotel seems to be a moving target, decreasing each time it comes before a public body. The draft Environmental Assessment for the hotel stated that 18,860 gallons per day would be required. This later went down to 14,184 gallons per day. On July 26, a letter from the Rancheria said that a more accurate figure would be 9,000 gallons per day, although this low figure only reflected 60 percent occupancy, obviously a less-than-desirable outcome for the hotel’s backers.

(The water-related material sent to the Coastal Commission can be found online here; scroll to Item 12b and click on Appendix C).

At the Aug. 8 hearing, the project was first reviewed in depth by the commission staff; then project proponents and opponents each got to have their say; and last, the long-suffering members of the public each got their two or three minutes to speak. Amy Deutschke, the BIA official in charge of the project, started the debate by insisting that the only things being considered were a loan guarantee and a lease — the actual building was immaterial. The Coastal Commission disagreed with her.

Trinidad Rancheria Chair Garth Sundberg then said that the Rancheria had listened to everybody’s concerns about the view and tried to address them.

“We love the view from here,” he said. “We need economic development on the Rancheria. … It will create jobs, benefit the health and welfare of our members ... I want you to know that although we want the permits, we are going to go forward anyway.”

Hostler-Carmesin then gave the 100-year-old history of the Trinidad Rancheria, described a 10-year planning process for the tribe’s commercial development and emphasized the many contributions the Rancheria had made to the greater community. She then announced that the Rancheria had successfully drilled for water on its own land, and estimated that “our pumping capacity is at 8,640 and it is indicating that we have an adequate supply of water for peak usage.”

Then, Trinidad resident Richard Johnson spoke representing Humboldt Alliance for Responsible Planning (HARP), a grassroots group opposed to the project.

“We may have differences of opinion but we are all in this together and we all share the same limited resources,” he said, adding that while his group supports the Rancheria’s efforts to improve its economic status, approval of the project as it was presented would violate federal and state laws.

There was not yet enough evidence, he said, to determine whether or not the Rancheria’s new well could provide enough water to serve the hotel on a long-term sustainable basis.

“We all live in the Luffenholtz watershed and we have a finite amount of water,” Johnson continued. “Development of any well, whether on the Rancheria property or in other areas of our watershed, could affect other nearby wells by increased water withdrawal. It’s important to recognize that there is development planned for the future based on the Rancheria’s comprehensive community-based plan … Likely, the water requirements for the Rancheria will increase due to that development.”

For the next hour, members of the public spoke, some stalwartly defending the Rancheria’s right as a sovereign nation to do whatever it pleased with its land and others criticizing the project’s design and the perceived inadequacy of information about water.

Eventually, public comment closed, and the members of the commission got down to the gritty task of coming to some sort of conclusion.

The commission was clearly conflicted, with some members resonating more to the theme of past racial injustices inflicted upon Native Americans and others more concerned with the apparent inconsistencies with the Coastal Act pointed out by the commission’s staff. Motions were made, amended and withdrawn. Some commissioners worried that if a decision was made in favor of the Rancheria that it would set a precedent allowing other projects of questionable legality to be approved.

The question of what will happen if the city does not provide water and the well water is not potable, or reliable — or for that matter, how the hotel will make up the difference between the estimated water from the well and its projected needs — was an item of strong concern to most commission members.

During one emotional exchange with the commission, Hostler-Carmensin insisted vehemently that enough water would somehow be found, that the tribe intended to move ahead and added that the tribe had already sunk more than $5 million into the project.

“Passion does not equal water,” Commission Chair Dayna Bochco retorted. “What happens if you build the hotel and there is no water?”

Hostler-Carmesin said in that case, the hotel would be unable to open. That final decision, she said, would be up to the Trinidad Rancheria Tribal Council.

Speaking to her fellow commissioners, Bochco described the visuals of the project as “disappointing” and said that she understood why the community was not happy.

Nonetheless, the commission eventually voted 6 to 3 to grant a conditional concurrence to the BIA. The passed motion specifies that “prior to commencement of construction,” the BIA shall provide commission staff that either the city of Trinidad has agreed to provide water to the project or that the Rancheria has found an alternative source and conducted an analysis on its effects on coastal resources pursuant to the California Coastal Act.

Newly seated Commissioner Mike Wilson, Humboldt’s Third District County Supervisor, voted with the majority to approve the conditional concurrence.

Editor's note: This story has been updated from a previous version to correct an editing error regarding the commission's discussion of the project's visual impacts, and to correct the spelling of Jacque Hoster-Carmesin's name. The Journal regrets the errors.
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Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Trinidad Rancheria Believes it May Have Found Water Source for Hotel Project; Sundberg May Have Violated State Lobbying Law

Posted By on Tue, Jul 30, 2019 at 12:46 PM

At the 11th hour, with a hearing looming before the California Coastal Commission next week, the Trinidad Rancheria believes it may have found a water source for its proposed hotel development on Scenic Drive.

The commission is set to meet Aug. 8 in Eureka, two months after a divided commission voted 6-3 in San Diego to object to the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ determination that the project was consistent with the protections laid out in the California Coastal Act. Specifically, commissioners repeatedly voiced concerns over the Rancheria’s ability to find a water source for the 100-room hotel, noting that the city of Trinidad had not yet committed to supplying water from its system as it conducts a number of studies to determine whether its capacity can meet current and future needs for the city and its service area.

An artistic rendering created by the Trinidad Rancheria of what its proposed Scenic Drive hotel project would look like from Trinidad Bay. - TRINIDAD RANCHERIA
  • Trinidad Rancheria
  • An artistic rendering created by the Trinidad Rancheria of what its proposed Scenic Drive hotel project would look like from Trinidad Bay.

Word that the Rancheria may have found a different water source first surfaced when commission staff posted an ex parte communication disclosure form from Commission Chair Dayna Bochco, who reported that she’d received a text message at 9:25 p.m. on July 23 from former Coastal Commissioner and Humboldt County Supervisor Ryan Sundberg, who currently works as the interim general manager of the Rancheria’s Cher-Ae Heights Casino.

“Hi Dayna, we have had a (drilling) rig looking for well water so we don’t have to depend on the city of Trinidad,” Sundberg wrote. “Today was very exciting. We hit water today and will be able to have well water treated and used for the hotel. Can’t wait to see you all when you come up next month!”

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Saturday, July 27, 2019

Rita's Restaurants Hit with ABC Fines; One Liquor License Sold at Auction

Posted By on Sat, Jul 27, 2019 at 3:27 PM

rita_s_magnum.jpg

The state of California seized a local restaurant’s liquor license and auctioned it off this month, an action that came amid a flurry of local activity from the department of Alcohol and Beverage Control.

With a bill of more than $500,000 in delinquent taxes and penalties owed to the state, Rita’s Margaritas and Mexican Grill, located on Fifth Street in Eureka, surrendered the liquor license to the state that owner Rita Pimentel held for the restaurant’s now long defunct location on Harris Street. The California Department of Tax and Fee Administration then seized the license from ABC and put it up for auction, where it fetched $80,000 from Debbi Chisum, who owns Double D Steak in Fortuna.

Meanwhile, ABC took action against the two other Rita’s establishments locally — the one in Eureka owned by Pimentel and Rita’s Arcata, which is owned by Edward Fregoso — based on allegations that both had illegally purchased liquor to sell at the restaurants.

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Wednesday, July 24, 2019

No Service: The Removal of a Long-Unpopular Cell Tower on Trinidad Head Poses Connectivity Issues

Posted By on Wed, Jul 24, 2019 at 9:37 AM

Trinidad Head - DREW HYLAND
  • Drew Hyland
  • Trinidad Head

For decades a large cell tower has dominated the top of scenic Trinidad Head, providing service to users of Verizon, AT&T and Sprint, but also creating much displeasure among some local residents. While most people have and use cellphones, many local residents wished the communications companies could find a less conspicuous location for their infrastructure.

Trinidad city officials have traditionally responded that the tower was necessary for the three companies to provide service, that they were bound by a long-term lease and that the tower provided about $50,000 in annual revenue to the city budget.

Last year, however, the Trinidad City Council gave in to pressure from the citizenry. The lease to Verizon, the main tenant, was finally up and the city decided not to renew it. Verizon and the other two companies that rent space on the tower — AT&T and Sprint — had one year to vacate the premises. They are supposed to be out by Sept. 1 but have the option of staying until the end of the year if they pay the city 150 percent of the normal rent for each month they delay.

Verizon built a replacement tower in a nearby quarry owned by Mercer-Fraser but has warned it will provide only minimal coverage to the Trinidad area. Nobody seems to know what Sprint will do and AT&T came up with a temporary solution that got squashed by the Trinidad Planning Commission at its July 17 meeting.

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Friday, July 19, 2019

Huffman Helps Pass Minimum Wage Bill; Legislation DOA in Republican Senate

Posted By on Fri, Jul 19, 2019 at 1:49 PM

North Coast Congressman Jared Huffman joined a majority of his House colleagues this morning in voting to gradually increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an to $15 an hour over the next six years.

If approved by the Senate and signed by the president (both of which seem unlikely), the legislation would increase wages for as many as 27 million Americans and potentially lift 1.3 million families out of poverty, according to a report from the Congressional Budget Office. Known as the Raise the Wage Act, the bill has been priority for the Democratic Caucus and passed the House on a 231-199 vote with just three Republicans supporting it and now heads to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) has said he will not take it up.

Jared Huffman. - CONGRESS
  • Congress
  • Jared Huffman.
McConnell and other Republicans have referred to the bill as a "job killer" that would depress the economy. The CBO report did find that the bill could lead to a "decline in employment of as many as 1.3 million people."

The Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank, recently released a report noting that the United States is in the longest period in its history without a minimum wage hike since the earnings floor was created. The report notes that the spending power of a minimum wage worker is 17 percent less today than a decade ago, and 31 percent less than it was in 1968.

California's minimum wage is currently $12 an hour for businesses with 26 or more employees and $11 an hour for those with 25 or fewer workers. It will reach $15 an hour for employees of larger companies in 2022 and for those of smaller ones the following year. That means the legislation would have no direct impact in Huffman's district. In the press release, he explained that he's supporting the measure because he thinks it would give minimum wage workers a "fair shake" and be good for the economy.

“Americans who are paid the federal minimum wage, even those who are employed full-time, are not making enough money to pay rent or to support themselves or their families,” he said in the release. “That’s unacceptable and it’s unsustainable for families who are struggling to afford the basic essentials, and it’s bad for the economy. I’m glad to support the Raise the Wage Act to finally raise the federal minimum wage and give a fair shake to millions of hard-working Americans.”

Read the full press release from Huffman's office copied below and find past Journal coverage of local efforts to increase the minimum wage here.


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Coastal Commission to Re-hear Trinidad Hotel Project in August

Posted By on Fri, Jul 19, 2019 at 9:38 AM

The California Coastal Commission will again consider whether the hotel development proposed by the Trinidad Rancheria on the bluffs above Scenic Drive is consistent with state coastal protections when the commission meets in Eureka next month.

On June 12, an obviously conflicted commission voted 6-3 to object to the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ determination that the project is consistent with the California Coastal Act, largely due to questions surrounding where the hotel will get its water from. The rancheria has asked that the city of Trinidad supply water for the proposed 100-room hotel adjacent to Cher-Ae Heights Casino but the city has not yet committed and has several studies underway to determine whether the city’s water source — Luffenholtz Creek — has sufficient capacity to meet the city’s current and future needs along with those of the hotel.

An artistic rendering created by the Trinidad Rancheria of what its proposed Scenic Drive hotel project would look like from Trinidad Bay. - TRINIDAD RANCHERIA
  • Trinidad Rancheria
  • An artistic rendering created by the Trinidad Rancheria of what its proposed Scenic Drive hotel project would look like from Trinidad Bay.


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Thursday, June 13, 2019

Coastal Commission Laments Timeline, 'Objects' to Trinidad Hotel Project

Posted By on Thu, Jun 13, 2019 at 10:48 AM

An artistic rendering created by the Trinidad Rancheria of what its proposed Scenic Drive hotel project would look like from Trinidad Bay. - TRINIDAD RANCHERIA
  • Trinidad Rancheria
  • An artistic rendering created by the Trinidad Rancheria of what its proposed Scenic Drive hotel project would look like from Trinidad Bay.

A conflicted California Coastal Commission voted 6-3 yesterday to object to the Trinidad Rancheria’s proposed 100-room hotel project on Scenic Drive, finding it inconsistent with state coastal protections.

Commissioners made clear during the nearly two-hour hearing in San Diego that the main consistency issue lies with water, and namely whether the city of Trinidad has the capacity to supply water to the project. The city currently has several studies underway but can’t commit to providing water to the proposed five-story hotel adjacent to Cher-Ae Heights Casino until they are complete, which is expected to happen before August.

Multiple commissioners lamented that the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which has jurisdictional oversight of the project because it is on sovereign tribal land, repeatedly declined staff requests to postpone Wednesday’s hearing until the commission’s meeting in August, which would have allowed for more local input and — potentially — completion of the water studies. Before the vote, several commissioners indicated they intended to vote to object to the project at this time but urged the Rancheria to resubmit its application so it can be heard at the August meeting.

After the meeting, Trinidad Rancheria Economic Development Corporation CEO David Tyson told the Journal in an email that the Rancheria would decide how to proceed after conferring with BIA officials.

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Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Eureka Council Rejects Humboldt Made's Proposal, Moves Forward with Virginia Marketing Firm

Posted By on Tue, Jun 4, 2019 at 6:34 PM

screen_shot_2019-06-02_at_8.25.52_am.png
Meeting in closed session on the heels of recent revelations that staff had materially misrepresented the extent of issues with Humboldt Made’s proposal to provide marketing services for the city, the Eureka City Council voted this evening to direct the city manager to negotiate the $370,000 annual contract with the other finalist, Eddy Alexander, based in Virginia.

The closed session decision — which City Attorney Bob Black said was reached by general consensus — comes amid serious questions about the city’s request for proposals process that had led to staff’s recommendation to award the contract to Humboldt Made. On May 21, the city council went against that recommendation and instead voted to have both finalists interviewed by a new review panel appointed by the mayor that was to include at least one council member and marketing experts.

But that panel interview never took place as revelations about errors with Humboldt Made’s initial proposal — and how they were misrepresented to the public and the council — consumed the process. Black took on reviewing the issues and told the Journal he planned to report his findings to the council this evening, as well as applicable law, under a closed session agenda item listed as “significant exposure to litigation.”

"The legal standard that we're looking for is did it give one proposer a competitive advantage and, if so, the irregularity would not be considered a minor matter," Black told the Journal on Friday. "It would put it out of bounds for a waiver."

The city issued a request for proposals for the marketing contract back in February, severing decades-long ties with the Eureka-Humboldt Visitors Bureau, and set a proposal deadline of April 5. The RFP required interested firms to submit both print and digital copies of their proposals by the deadline, warning that submittals that weren't timely or complete "shall" be rejected.

Staff initially indicated that Humboldt Made submitted an incorrect draft of its print proposal and the correct draft of its digital proposal by the deadline, with the sole issue with the incorrect copy being a duplicate page that took the place of another page. Humboldt Made was allowed to resubmit the print proposal, staff said, on April 8, the next business day.

But after a Journal inquiry led to Black's review last week, the city's administrative staff found that Humboldt Made had not in fact submitted a correct digital copy of the proposal before the deadline and that corrections in the resubmitted print copies were far more extensive than staff had originally represented.

Because the contract in question is for more than $100,000 in city funds, the city's procurement policy states that the city council is the sole entity with the power to waive "irregularities" in the bid process. Tonight, the council voted not to waive the irregularities and thus to reject Humboldt Made's proposal. In a separate vote, the council then directed City Manager Greg Sparks to move forward with negotiating the contract with the other finalist, Eddy Alexander.

Both votes will come back before the council in open session on June 18 in the form of resolutions.
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Sunday, June 2, 2019

Eureka Staff Repeatedly Provided Council, Public Inaccurate Information About Marketing Contract Process

Posted By on Sun, Jun 2, 2019 at 9:11 AM

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During a tense May 21 Eureka City Council meeting, council members lamented that what they deemed a flawed process used to select finalists for a $370,000 annual marketing contract had broken the public’s trust.

Things have since gone from bad to worse amid new revelations, including that staff has repeatedly and materially misrepresented key facts about how the process played out.

The Journal has learned the council will meet in closed session to discuss one case of “significant exposure to litigation” stemming from the process that led to city staff recommending the council award the marketing contract to Humboldt Made, which already runs the Eureka Visitors Center, over a nationally acclaimed Virginia firm, Eddy Alexander. On May 21, the council opted to hold off on awarding the contract and to instead conduct another round of interviews with the two finalists, this time with marketing experts and a couple council members on the interview panel.

But the Journal has found that staff repeatedly provided inaccurate information to the public — and the council at the May 21 meeting — about problems with Humboldt Made’s initial proposal submittal and that of another firm that didn’t make the final cut. The problems were in fact so substantial that City Manager Greg Sparks says that, knowing what he knows now, Humboldt Made’s proposal should have been rejected and not considered, quickly adding that he doesn’t want to get out in front of City Attorney Bob Black, who is expected to brief the council on the findings an internal review of the matter and the legal ramifications on Tuesday.

At the heart of the matter is the question of whether Humboldt Made submitted its proposal complete and on time and, if not, whether that “irregularity” is something that should be considered non-material — the kind of thing that can be waived while maintaining a fair process — or substantive enough that it gave Humboldt Made a competitive advantage.


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Friday, May 31, 2019

Julie Benbow Tapped to Head Visitor's Bureau After Supes Extend Contract

Posted By on Fri, May 31, 2019 at 11:29 AM

HUMBOLDT COUNTY VISITORS BUREAU
  • Humboldt County Visitors Bureau
The Humboldt County Visitors Bureau’s board of directors has named Julie Benbow as the tourism organization’s interim executive director.

Benbow steps into the role Tony Smithers held for decades until his unexpected death in January. And the board’s announcement comes on the heels of the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors’ unanimous vote Tuesday to extend the county’s contract with the bureau for another two years.

The board’s vote was a huge win for the bureau, as staff had recommended the board weigh continuing to give the bureau more than $350,000 annually to market Humboldt County against putting those funds out in a competitive request for proposals process. The city of Eureka took that step earlier this year and has since opted to spend its roughly $370,000 in annual marketing funds with another firm. (Two finalists — Humboldt Made and Eddy Alexander, based in Virginia, are currently vying for those funds.)

When the supervisors began discussing the issue Tuesday, it initially appeared the board was seriously considering moving away from the bureau, with Supervisor Estelle Fennell suggesting just a six-month contract, which would have allowed the bureau to continue marketing the county through the tourism season but give the board the flexibility to go in a different direction before next year. Supervisor Virginia Bass seconded Fennell's motion but said she'd like to see the contract extended a bit longer, pointing out that the bureau has been in "turmoil" since Smithers' unexpected death in January.

Supervisor Steve Madrone then voiced strong support for the bureau, saying he'd like to see it given another two years — enough time for it to regroup and develop a plan to work closely with other organizations and the county. Supervisor Rex Bohn liked the idea.

"You guys know I always agree with Supervisor Madrone," he quipped. "Jesus, this is going to be tough: He nailed it. ... I think (the bureau) got a wake up call and what you're going to do is have an invigorated visitors bureau."

As bureau Board President Mark Rowley indicated during public comment at Tuesday’s board meeting, the bureau is working to reinvent itself — conducing a full organizational audit and analyzing everything it is and isn't doing — and in a press release this morning it indicated staff plans to present a new strategic marketing plan to the board by the end of the year.

“The Board is committed to using this time to establish new strategies and collaborations with (the) goal of attracting visitors and increasing tourism revenue throughout Humboldt County,” Rowley said in the press release.

See the bureau’s full press release copied below and watch Tuesday’s board meeting on the issue below (the visitor's bureau conversation begins at the 2:03:00 mark).


News from Humboldt County Visitors Bureau
EUREKA, Ca – On Tuesday May 28th, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors, acknowledging the importance of the tourism industry for economic development, voted unanimously to fund the Bureau for two more years. The Bureau has a history of successful marketing and getting valuable national and international media coverage.  In 2018, tourism brought an estimated $416,000,000 into the County. In the next few months, the Bureau will be working with partners and stakeholders to develop a strategic marketing plan to be presented to the Supervisors by the end of the year.
          With the sudden passing in January of Bureau Director, Tony Smithers, and the redirection of City of Eureka funding, the Board of Directors developed a transition plan and meet regularly to initiate the actions necessary to increase marketing initiatives and strengthen the organization’s scope and membership.
On May 29th, the Board named Julie Benbow the Interim Executive Director to provide support during this process and to lead the Bureau as it moves forwards. Julie comes with thirty years of non-profit leadership in San Francisco and Humboldt County.
“The Board is committed to using this time to establish new strategies and collaborations with goal of attracting visitors and increasing tourism revenue throughout Humboldt County,” said Board President, Marc Rowley.
For more information, please contact Julie Benbow at julie@visitredwoods.com or 707-443-5097.
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