Humboldt County's Fourth Supervisorial District stands apart from the rest. First and foremost, it's the most urban district in the 4,000 square miles that make up Humboldt County and it encompasses the city of Eureka, where most county services are located and many of the county's most entrenched problems — from homelessness to drug addiction — are most visible.
Three candidates are currently vying to represent the district for the next four years. There's former Eureka Mayor Virginia Bass, who has held the seat since 2010 and is working to fend off two challengers: environmental consultant Dani Burkhart and educator and community organizer Mary Ann Lyons. While Bass has campaigned on her experience and track record, the challengers argue they would bring fresh perspective and new ideas to the board.
The Journal reached out to each by email, asking them to answer a few questions central to the campaign and to fill out a questionnaire giving voters a sense of where they come from, who they are and how they see the world. Check out what they had to say below and make sure to vote June 5.
North Coast Journal: What are the two biggest challenges facing the Fourth District and what are your plans to address them?
Virginia Bass: If I have to list just two, I would choose public safety and housing. But let's be honest here, you really can't separate the challenges our community faces as they are interrelated. Public safety concerns, including issues surrounding homelessness, mental health and addiction, can be better addressed when people have some place to live.
I will continue to bring people together to work toward common goals. I brought a group together from the city of Eureka, the county, public safety and other stakeholders, which met every Thursday at 8 a.m. to talk about ways to effectively address homelessness. One of the outcomes was the formation of the Mobile Intervention Services Team (MIST), which pairs law enforcement with mental health workers.
I approached the housing authority and asked it to look at changing the HUD Section-8 voucher process. Formerly only person-based, a portion will be project-based and can be dedicated to individual projects, which makes projects more competitive for funding.
I have also put a spotlight on issues of mental health and addiction. We can't keep turning a blind eye toward issues and hope they magically go away.
Dani Burkhart: First, I believe the housing crisis and drug addiction are two of the larger challenges facing the Fourth District. These are multi-faceted issues that will take diverse solutions. I believe the answers we are seeking to many of our issues will come as a result of building a resilient economy and community.
Potential solutions include: a sanctioned and monitored shelter with toilet and trash facilities, life and job skills training, addressing development of housing units and living wage jobs. The Fourth District needs an expansion in access for mental health and addiction care — there are not enough beds in programs for those who need them and virtually no programs for teens or dual-diagnosis folks facing addiction. If we can create avenues for breaking the cycle of poverty and addiction, then we create community resiliency which benefits all of our residents.
Mary Ann Lyons: First, homelessness. Very often this is confused with the criminal element in the Old Town area. I feel we need stricter measures to deal with the blight of crimes in our county seat. But the actual issue of homelessness is a deeper problem not confined to just the Fourth District. For example, we have more than 1,000 K-12 students who qualify for McKinney-Vento funds due to unstable housing in Humboldt County. This speaks to an incredible lack of affordable housing, the very slow results at the county level over the past eight years to address the lack of coordination between homeless service groups and services, and the lack of teamwork between the cities and county to resolve these issues.
Second, the Fourth District is lacking updated infrastructure. This includes poor roads upkeep, brownfield remediation, housing remediation, lack of affordable housing and reliable internet service. While we have received small grants from the EPA to clean up toxic waste sites from past industries, it is not enough. We need to focus on adjusting building codes for our unique area. We need to concentrate on reaching out to business industries like AT&T to follow through on their broken promises and modernize our technologies.
NCJ: What is county government's largest flaw in responding to residents' needs and how do you plan to fix it?
Bass: I would say that response times, communication and follow up are areas where we can improve. The size of government and the multiple departments people have to navigate through can be a contributing factor to slow or insufficient response times when people have questions or concerns.
As an example, a person may call regarding a nuisance property in their neighborhood. As a supervisor I reach out to all the potential departments and other agencies to see what courses of action can remedy the situation. Providing a comprehensive response can often take a bit of time and the actual plan of action to remedy the situation could be complicated and take a long time from start to finish. I now calendar dates for follow up as well as send myself email reminders through delayed delivery so that I can keep people apprised of progress regarding the issue in question.
Sometimes unrealistic expectations are set and people are not happy with the outcome, so clear communication is important. The sheer amount of emails we receive also plays a part in delay as some end up routed to spam and don't get discovered as soon as needed.
Burkhart: I believe part of the problem is in the accessibility of our government for normal, working folks. In order to participate in the public discussion, one must take off work to attend the board of supervisors meetings, which is not an option for everyone. Public comments received by email are rarely included in the discussion of the agenda item during the public meeting. We need meetings that are accessible to those who wish to participate in our governance by offering alternative days/times on regular rotation, and making sure we include all public comment in the discussion.
I believe another part of the problem lies with the reception public commenters receive at the meetings from our board of supervisors. At best, we see polite interest, at worst we have seen language that is unprofessional and is derisive of the commenter. The most recent example can be seen about two hours into Tuesday May 8's board meeting where Chair Sundberg interacts with constituent [and Journal Publisher] Judy Hodgson. Our electeds need to lead with appropriate behavior in chambers, even if they don't agree with the speaker, while also reminding their colleagues of that responsibility when they are out of line.
Lyons: There is a consistent lack of communication between the county government and its residents. This is also apparent in interactions with the county government and local city governments. It has been evidenced in civil grand jury reports surrounding our growing homelessness issue.
Most local residents are not fully aware of what is happening with county funds and how decisions are arrived upon. For example, Measure Z funds are by application only. I feel that there was a lack of effort at the county level to explain the process fully using local media outlets, as well as other proactive approaches to allow for a transparent application process. The supervisors' meetings feel inaccessible to many. They are held at the county seat which imposes a hardship for distant community members.
We need outreach coordinators for districts that provide avenues for constituents to share their thoughts and ideas to the supervisor they hired to represent them. I propose to create such positions. I also propose to create social media avenues of engagement that reflect a positive approachability between supervisors and their constituents.
NCJ: Why are you the right person to represent the Fourth District for the next four years?
Bass: Essentially the board of supervisors runs a $377 million company serving the needs of 136,000 citizens over 4,000 square miles. Having an understanding of systems and processes is helpful in moving forward when addressing some of the harder issues facing our community. It's great to have ideas but making them reality takes an in-depth understanding of how to move things through the process to completion. I have a proven track record of getting things done.
While I've certainly amassed the experience and knowledge to do the job, I bring more to the table than just that. Working 31 years in my family's restaurant instilled in me the importance of listening to your customers and doing your best to meet their expectations.
Today my customers are the citizens of this community. While policy is certainly a big part of what I do, at the core, my job is about people. I'm solution-oriented and strive to find answers to help real people solve real problems.
I'm accessible and have an established practice of talking to anyone, especially people who do not agree with me as long as the conversation is respectful. I believe we have more in common than what divides us.
Burkhart: I am the right person for this job if you believe it is time for fresh ideas and new faces in our local governance. If you would like someone in office who listens without judgment, makes evidence/data-based decisions and does their research thoroughly, I'm your candidate. If you are ready for someone to step up and be accountable, leading our community away from insolvency and into a sustainable and resilient future, then I'm ready for the job.
I believe we are all ready for representatives who actually represent the whole of the community rather than select interest groups. We are ready to stand together and face our problems head on, being part of solutions and building the community we need to thrive as a whole. We are ready for a community where our most vulnerable citizens are cared for instead of shamed for their circumstances. I'm ready to bring my experience, passion and integrity to work for those goals. I'm your candidate if you believe we are ready to get to work, together.
Lyons: I am applying for the job of county supervisor for the Fourth District and am asking its citizens to hire me by voting for me. I feel that the Fourth District is searching for a person who represents the diverse population and needs of our area.
I am a well-known community member with a proven track record of standing up for the rights and dignity of others. I have spent my life working toward justice and equality. Whether helping a patron learn about healthy food while they heal, marching together with my neighbors, supporting local issues or teaching my students the meaning of human rights for all — I stand as an advocate for the members of District Four as well as the county at large. I am well educated, believe in inclusive dialogue and have the personality to stand up for the voiceless. I am ready for the job. Let's turn this election up!
For more on the candidates, visit their websites at www.bass4supervisor.com, www.dani4supervisor.com and www.maryannlyons.com. And watch the candidates spar in a forum at www.pbs.org or listen at www.khsu.org.
Where did you grow up? Eureka
How long have you lived in Humboldt County? 20,594 days (my whole life)
Can you please provide a brief education history? I graduated from Eureka High School in 1980 and graduated from Humboldt State University cum laude with a degree in business administration.
Can you please provide a brief work history? I spent 31 years working in and operating my family's restaurant, OH's Townhouse. I then worked for Eli Lilly as a pharmaceutical sales representative. I specialized in the neuroscience division, which is where I realized my interest in issues of mental health. I was a council person and mayor of Eureka prior to being elected Fourth District supervisor in 2010.
What is your current occupation? Humboldt County Fourth District supervisor
What do you consider the three most important endorsements you have received to date in your campaign for county supervisor? Congressman Jared Huffman, state Sen. Mike McGuire and the Humboldt Deputy Sheriff's Organization.
What is your favorite movie? A tie between The Incredible Mr. Limpet and Silence of the Lambs.
What is your favorite book? Little Women
What magazine do you read most regularly? Time
If your campaign had a theme song, what would it be? "Unstoppable" by Rascal Flatts (Olympic Version)
Who is your favorite fictional politician? Jefferson Smith (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington)
Who is your favorite real life politician? It's a tie between former Humboldt County Supervisors Jimmy Smith and O.H. Bass.
Dogs or cats? Cats (although I love dogs, too).
What is your favorite hobby? Cooking/eating
What would your superpower be and how would you use it? I would be able to "travel" to the future so that I could bring back and apply all of the solutions to the challenges our community faces, resulting in a community where issues of homelessness, mental health, addiction (I could go on and on) become distant memories.
City of residence? Eureka
Where did you grow up? I was born in Arcadia, the place Arcata is frequently mistaken for, and I grew up in Elk (Mendocino County) before transferring to HSU as a student.
How long have you lived in Humboldt County? Just slightly under a decade.
Can you please provide a brief education history? College of the Redwoods Fort Bragg, received AA in transfer studies, focused on math and natural sciences, was a tutor and made honor roll. Humboldt State University, bachelor's of science in environmental science — energy and climate studies with a minor in economics.
Can you please provide a brief work history? Out of high school, I went to work in several restaurants and hotels in the Mendocino area while attending CR in Fort Bragg, usually two or three part-time jobs concurrently. As a student at CR, I worked as a tutor and note-taker for students with learning disabilities, in addition to holding supervisorial positions in hospitality. As a student at HSU, I worked as a research assistant for Humboldt Energy Independence Fund and in the Depot on campus as a student coordinator. I have also worked in retail, customer service, telemarketing, the cannabis industry and nonprofits.
What is your current occupation? I am an environmental planning consultant, I focus mainly on establishing land-use entitlements, filing the correct paperwork for those entitlements and balancing those with agency policies at the city, county and state levels of government.
What do you consider the three most important endorsements you have received to date in your campaign for county supervisor? Our Revolution of Humboldt, Homeless Voices of Humboldt and the entire list of citizen endorsers at www.dani4supervisor.com/endorsements. Every endorsement is important to me and I look forward to earning more of them.
What is your favorite movie? The Nightmare Before Christmas or Frida, depending on my mood.
What is your favorite book? Hard to pick this one, I have so many favorites! Fahrenheit 451, The Handmaid's Tale, The War on Peace, A Severe Mercy.
What magazine do you read most regularly? The Economist and Sunset Magazine
If your campaign had a theme song, what would it be? "What About Us" by Pink
Who is your favorite fictional politician? Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation
Who is your favorite real-life politician? Love him or not, Bernie Sanders is one of the few who makes a visible effort on behalf of all of us to govern for the masses, not just a privileged few. My favorite politician that I have met in person is state Sen. Mike McGuire for his dedication to his district and his attitude toward public service.
Dogs or cats? Dogs
What is your favorite hobby? Cooking/baking
What would your superpower be and how would you use it? I'd love to be an empath/mind-reader so I can more quickly get to the heart of a situation and work to resolve it.
Mary Ann Lyons
Age? Old enough to know better
City of residence? Eureka
Where did you grow up? Mostly California
How long have you lived in Humboldt County? A couple decades
Can you please provide a brief education history? Still learning ... but officially, I am proud alumna from Humboldt State with a master's degree in education and BA in anthropology.
Can you please provide a brief work history? At this time, I am a teacher for K-8th grade students throughout Humboldt County. I spent 13-plus years working for the community at our local food co-op. I worked in every department. I served as the United Food and Commercial Workers shop steward for my fellow co-workers as well as serving on the board of directors as an employee representative. Through the years, I have worked in the social services field as an Aid to Families with Dependent Children worker, court advocate and counselor in a shelter for battered women.
What is your current occupation? As I stated above, I am a teacher. I provide individualized education plans for each of my students.
What do you consider the three most important endorsements you have received to date in your campaign for county supervisor? Central Labor Council, United Food and Clothing Workers, my community, friends and family. (They are the most important endorsement. It is their belief in the need for change and their confidence in my ability to be their voice that has led me to this moment.)
What is your favorite movie? The Dark Crystal
What is your favorite book? The Complete Works of Shakespeare
What magazine do you read most regularly? The Smithsonian
If your campaign had a theme song, what would it be? Roar by Katy Perry
Who is your favorite fictional politician? I don't have one. Recent national politics has ruined that for me.
Who is your favorite real-life politician? Barack Obama
Dogs or cats? My cat would kill me if I said dogs. That's like choosing between my children. Impossible.
What is your favorite hobby? Reading at the beach.
What would your superpower be and how would you use it? Fishes and loaves. To be able to end hunger by feeding the world.