5th District rivals face big crowd, many questions

PICK ONE ON JUNE 5 Steve Madrone and Ryan Sundberg answered questions at a forum at Azalea Hall in McKinleyville last week. Jack Durham | Union

Jack Durham
Mad River Union

McKINLEYVILLE – The two candidates for Fifth District Supervisor squared off during a forum last week in McKinleyville and tackled issues including incorporation, illegal cannabis grows and a controversial highway interchange project proposed in the Trinidad area.

More than 160 people filled Azalea Hall April 23 for the forum, sponsored by the McKinleyville Chamber of Commerce and facilitated by the Humboldt County League of Women Voters. Incumbent Ryan Sundberg and challenger Steve Madrone answered about two dozen questions submitted by audience members and read by moderator Anne Hartline.

Voters within the sprawling Fifth District, which includes McKinleyville, Trinidad, Orick, Willow Creek and Hoopa, will choose one of the candidates on June 5. The top vote-getter will win a four-year seat on the Board of Supervisors.


Among the issues that they discussed at the forum was whether McKinleyville – the largest unincorporated community in the county – should form a city government.

Madrone said the community needs to have more information, including a break down of all the revenues generated by McKinleyville compared to how much the county spends in the community.

“I’m supportive of the residents of McKinleyville deciding on that issue themselves,” Madrone said. “In order to decide that issue, we need more information.”

“By having that information, the community could have an informed discussion about whether or not this community feels it wants to incorporate or not.”

Although he didn’t go as far as actually endorsing the idea of incorporating, Madrone suggested it might be a better way to run the community.

“It’s also clear to me that a city can run itself more efficiently than a county can run a city,” Madrone said.

Madrone acknowledged that a state law that requires new incorporations to be revenue neutral to counties could hinder cityhood, but he said there’s a solution. “We can change that law,’ Madrone said.

Sundberg had a different take on the issue.

“Mr. Madrone is correct. There is a state law that says you have to be revenue neutral to the county,” Sundberg said. “And the last places that have incorporated after that law came into effect, all but one of them went bankrupt. I don’t want McKinleyville to go bankrupt.”

Sundberg said that the amount of money that McKinleyville generates for the county, compared to what the county spends there, is very close.

“It’s pretty close, so we would need a bunch of new revenue to make anything work,” Sundberg said.

Changing the state law for all of California so that McKinleyville could incorporate “is very difficult,” Sundberg said.

“So what I’ve been focused on is if McKinleyville can’t be a city, let’s make sure McKinleyville has all the services,” Sundberg said.

Campaign contributions

The candidates were asked about campaign donations, with a specific query for them to tell everyone their top three donors.

Sundberg used the opportunity to talk about campaign finance reform approved by the supervisors.

“Our board a few years ago did campaign finance reform,” Sundberg said. “So the most any on donor can donate now is $1,500.”

“It’s really knocked down the amount of money that are in these elections,” Sundberg said. “My top donors, there’s a whole bunch of them at $1,500, and there’s a whole bunch at $99.” 

Sundberg did not name the top three donors, as asked. 

When it was Madrone’s turn to answer, he started with his top donors. “My three biggest donors are the Central Labor Council, Humboldt County, $1,500; the National Union of Healthcare Workers of Humboldt County and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees,” Madrone said.

Madrone boasted that he has not receive any donations from cannabis farmers and said he probably wouldn’t accept campaign contributions from the industry. He also brought up the issue of conflicts of interest. Madrone has said that because Sundberg has received contributions from the cannabis industry, he has a conflict of interest and cannot vote on cannabis regulations. Sundberg has denied that this is a conflict and noted at the forum that he has received donations from people who support the industry and oppose the industry.

Trinidad interchange

The candidates were asked about a controversial proposal to build an interchange on U.S. Highway 101 that would allow vehicles onto Trinidad Rancheria property. Access to the tribal land and its casino is now through Scenic Drive. 

Madrone said he supports larger-scale transportation planning effort for the area.

“I fully support a broad, community based effort where we bring all the stakeholders to the table and we identify what are those transportation and circulation issues in the Trinidad area,” Madrone said.

The interchange, he said, may be necessary for the hotel and gas station the rancheria is proposing to build. He also suggested that the project may require water and sewer services extended from McKinleyville,

“I think we should be fixing our current problems before we’re trying to expand into something that creates a lot of growth that we’re not really prepared for,” Madrone said.

Sundberg was critical of Madrone’s comments.

“What i have to say is you’re highly, highly misinformed on this subject,” Sundberg said. “This project is not for any kind of growth.”

The hotel and gas station will likely be built long before the interchange is constructed, Sundberg said. 

The interchange, Sundberg said, is needed because the county is planning an alternate road system for people with homes on Scenic Drive, which is slipping into the ocean.

“The county knows that Scenic Drive is falling into the ocean. We need a plan on what to do,” Sundberg said.

“It’s a necessary piece of infrastructure for a road that’s going to be in the ocean,” Sundberg said. “It requires no water from McKinleyville. It induces no growth.”


Sundberg, who is seeking a third term on the board, stressed his accomplishments during his tenure on the board.

“Four years ago we were sitting here. We were talking about jobs and we were talking about public safety,” Sundberg told the crowd.

Since then, Measure Z was passed and more deputies were hired. “So today... we have a fully staffed Sheriff’s Department here in McKinleyville,” Sundberg said. He also said that the unemployment rate has fallen and is now at 3.4 percent.
Madrone talked often about bringing people together to find solutions.

“As your supervisor, I will continue to reach out to all stakeholders and help our community to be able to work together, to create real community solutions. I will work to create lasting health and wealth for all who live in our communities,” Madrone said.

Eco concerns

Asked about the biggest environmental concerns facing Humboldt County, Sundberg said the black market cannabis industry was at the top of the list, In response to these illegal grows, the county has revamped Code Enforcement and enacted $10,000-a-day fines against growers, Sundberg said.

Madrone agreed that the black market cannabis industry is a major environmental concern. “I think we can do a better job managing that industry,” Madrone said.




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