McK committee gets down to business

Jack Durham
Mad River Union

McKINLEYVILLE – Mack Town’s advisory committee learned about a proposed marijuana excise tax, heartily endorsed a new local electricity provider and gave a round of applause to the man behind the Central Avenue improvement project at its meeting last week.

Measure S

Connie Beck, director of the Department of Health and Human Services, and Tom Mattson, the director of Public Works, were at the Sept. 29 meeting of the McKinleyville Municipal Advisory Committee and teamed up to give a presentation on Measure S, which would tax marijuana grows if approved by voters on Nov. 8.

The measure would tax pot farmers based on the square footage of their grow areas. Outdoor grows would pay $1 per square foot, indoor grows would pay $3 a square foot, and mixed light (indoor/outdoor) grows would pay $2 per square foot.

Mattson said that if the 400 growers who are now seeking permits pay the tax, it could generate about $7.3 million for Humboldt County.

The money would be placed in the county’s General Fund, and county supervisors could spend it any way they see fit.

In their presentation, Mattson and Beck stated that the money would be used for essential services, including the enforcement of laws that require marijuana grows to protect natural areas and waterways.

The money would also be used for mental health services, maintaining rural ambulance service  and for cleaning up environmentally damaging marijuana farms.

Committee member Kevin Jenkins talked about the damages he has seen in the hills of Humboldt, where growers have bulldozed mountainsides and dumped toxic chemicals. The damage is so extensive that the $7.3 million will barely address the problem, according to Jenkins.

The committee did not take a position on Measure S.

Community Choice Energy

The committee voted unanimously and enthusiastically in support of Redwood Coast Energy Authority’s Community Choice Aggregation program, which may reduce the power bills of residents who are now using Pacific Gas & Electric.

Some time in May 2017, if all goes as planned, all PG&E customers in Humboldt will become part of the new program, receiving electricity purchased by Redwood Coast Energy Authority, rather than PG&E. However, PG&E will continue to maintain the electrical grid, power lines, meters and will be in charge of the billing.

Customers will mostly likely not notice any difference, other than paying less for power. If they so choose, they can opt out of the program and go back to being customers of just PG&E.

Matthew Marshall, executive director of the energy authority, told the committee that other agencies that have pursued community choice aggregation have realized 20 to 30 percent savings compared to PG&E rates. The actual amount depends on how much renewable energy the authority purchases.

Some of that energy will be purchased from local sources, including local biomass plants that burn mill waste and create power, as well as local solar installations. Marshall said that initially, about 10 to 15 percent of the power will be purchased from local sources.

Central Avenue

Public Works Director Mattson received a round of applause at the meeting after being thanked for the Central Avenue improvement project, which is now underway between Hiller Road and Anna Sparks Way.

“I have been so pleased with Central Avenue and the change in traffic,” resident Linda Doerflinger told the committee. Doerflinger regularly walks on Central Avenue and rides her bicycle.

The crosswalks, she said, have become much safer. The county has installed “piano key” crosswalks, with large white stripes, at the intersections of School Road, Sutter Road, Heartwood Drive and Hiller Road.

Little pedestrian islands – raised strips  – have been installed on Central Avenue at intersections, and have reportedly helped slow down traffic.

Committee Chair Ben Shepherd agreed with Doerflinger, noting that there have been improvements even though the project is not yet complete.

Another improvement is to what has been called the “drag strip” on Central Avenue just south of Anna Sparks Way. Southbound traffic would line up at the stoplight, then race south on Central trying to beat each other before the two lanes merged.

That problem may have been solved with striping on the road that has created a right-hand turn lane for Anna Sparks Way, with a bike lane to the east.

Cars either turn right, or cue up in the left-hand lane. When the light turns green the cars are in the same lane and there is no option for passing, and no more drag racing.

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