It's the Appointments, Folks

County Supervisors extend their power and vision of the future through their appointments to Boards and Commissions. This provides us with a valuable lens through which incumbents can be evaluated.

Here are some examples from Ryan Sundberg’s appointments as we weigh our choice to replace him, and his appointees, in this election, or to stay the course.

McKinleyville Municipal Advisory Committee (MMAC)

The MMAC, conceived as “a consistent and inviting community forum,” has been anything but. The narrow perspective of the appointees is no accident. Instead of 7 mostly older white businessmen and one “outmanned” woman, we could have had a very different board comprised of three more highly effective women from diverse and relevant backgrounds.

Mary Burke applied for an opening on MMAC, and attended the Board of Supervisors’ meeting where Kevin Jenkins, owner of McKinleyville ACE Hardware, was chosen instead. Mr. Jenkins was not only absent from the meeting, he had not even applied. Ryan dredged up a previous application in order to nominate him.

Mr. Jenkins illegally filled in the wetlands around his new store, without any of the required permits. Threatened with a Clean Water Act lawsuit, he removed the fill, and entered into agreements to remedy multiple County code violations. Mr. Jenkins is now in a position to “advise” on development of the McKinleyville Town Center, a site replete with wetlands.

By contrast, Mary Burke is North Coast Project Manager for CalTrout, including projects on the Mad R. Fortunately for us, Mary is now an MCSD Director.

Twila Sanchez, Maternal & Child Health Supervisor at United Indian Health Services, with excellent references from Judge Marilyn Miles and former Planning Commissioner and Yurok Tribal Chair Sue Masten, applied for an earlier opening. Ryan chose Otto van Emmerik, the retired Green Diamond operations manager who has missed more meetings than any member.

MCSD is currently negotiating with Green Diamond for a McKinleyville community forest, likely involving advantageous development rights on McKinleyville’s eastern boundary. MMAC chair Ben Shepherd has blocked this issue from consideration by the MMAC, twice, leaving the public in the dark regarding the progress of these negotiations.

In 2014, Ryan nominated Jennifer Kalt to the MMAC, touting his desire “… to try and balance that board out and have a wide array of opinions and thoughts on it.”  (MRU 10/16/14)

Ms. Kalt has a Master’s Degree from HSU, and is a highly regarded botanist who has consulted for the Indian Basket-weavers, evaluated contamination of our beaches and dioxin in Humboldt Bay, and is widely known for her pragmatic, science-based and even-handed approach to problem solving.

A month later, Ryan withdrew his nomination of Ms. Kalt to the MMAC citing “A small group of conservatives who threatened to somehow disrupt the fledgling committee, perhaps by attending the meetings or “working behind the scenes.” (MRU 10/29 &11/6, 2014)

Ms. Kalt bowed out gracefully, but what’s really disturbing is Ryan’s capitulation.

Ryan will claim that three of the MMAC members, Jenkins, Shepherd and Dreyer, were chosen by the Board of Supervisors (BOS), a distinction without a difference, since this Board routinely defers to the preferences of the local Supervisor.

The Planning Commission

Next to the Board of Supervisors, the County Planning Commission arguably has the most important role in shaping our future. When the divisive Lee Ulansey was booted from a second term, Ryan had a chance to support Nicole Sager, assistant director of the Yurok Tribe’s planning department. Instead, Ryan nominated Brian Mitchell, of Rob Arkley’s Security National Servicing Corporation, despite the observation by Supervisor Wilson that “the Planning Commission, like so many other government boards, is currently made up entirely of white men.”

The Airport

Ryan appointed Justin Zabel, co-owner of Mercer Fraser to the Airport Advisory Board, despite his company’s record of shady dealings.

Mercer’s most recent plan for a Mad River marijuana refinery next to our drinking water supplies was facilitated by Ryan’s Planning Commission appointee, Ben Shepherd, who ignored opposition from the Municipal Water District and delivered a favorable 3 to 2 vote. Brian Mitchell, another of Ryan’s appointees, abstained.

In 2016, when Mercer was fined $173000, and counting, the Willits News reported:

“…the Mendocino County Air Quality Management District filed a claim against asphalt plant owners Grist Creek Aggregates, Mercer-Fraser…  declared the plant a “public nuisance” with  “a pattern of ongoing refusal to address air quality and compliance concerns on the part of plant owners and managers; the plant owners “acted negligently, with callous indifference and/or intentionally, in their continued willful operation of the facilities … endangering residents in nearby homes, employees, and the public in general.”

Mercer Fraser has applied to the Planning Commission for a similar permit to operate an asphalt plant using the same crumb rubber mixing plant near Big Lagoon.

 In 2009 Mercer Fraser settled a fraud lawsuit for $1.3 million, after bidding on federal contracts for small local companies by concealing its affiliation with Contri Construction of Reno, Nevada, a $50 million firm, which owns 55% of M-F.

Ryan Sundberg has consistently supported rollbacks of environmental protection in favor of the well-connected in the General Plan Update.  His appointees reflect this vision. Is this our vision?

Ken Miller