Money And Machinations Bode Ill For The Supervisorial Races

Elizabeth Alves
My Side of the  Street

When Virginia Bass appointed Kevin McKenny Humboldt County Planning Commission, she inadvertently gave considerable leverage to the unhappy neighbors of his property across Eighth Street from the Eureka Inn.

They were outraged that the supervisor for the Fourth District appointed a man to the commission who has been locked in an ongoing struggle with the City of Eureka for nearly a decade. They say he demonstrates his disdain for planning issues by refusing to even clean up his derelict Downtowner Motel site.

Photos of the property show sagging buildings propped up by plywood over doors and windows, piles of dirt and other materials and decrepit chain-link fencing. Graffiti shows the site is not secure, and neighbors say that at times, they have seen evidence that transients are sheltering in the buildings. The place is just plain nasty, and no one can blame the neighbors for trying to apply pressure to McKenny to fix it up.

Bass handed them an opportunity on a platter. It’s not as if the mess was a secret – it is less than 10 blocks from the office of the county’s daily newspaper. But the controversy had slipped off the radar until Bass elevated McKenny, then defended his neglect. She has said that if he doesn’t make any progress in six months, she’ll reconsider.

That’s big of her, and about what you’d expect from a supervisor who has participated in the four-person majority on the board in an effective effort to gut the General Plan Update. In addition to delaying and diluting the carefully crafted GPU which resulted in, from years of community hearings, the four have packed the planning commission with people from the construction and development sectors who don’t approve of land use planning. McKenny is the poster child for the greediest members of the bunch.

When he bought the former Downtowner, it had been closed for a while, and he intended to renovate it into upscale condos in a sort of commercial house-flipping deal. His first design didn’t pass muster with the city, and before he got around to terms, the markets started to crumble. Like plenty of other speculators, he saw his prospective financing evaporate.

It wouldn’t have cost all that much to keep the site clean and secure over the years, but he didn’t. Other property owners in the area have complained repeatedly to the city, and received little action for their efforts. The city has notified McKenny of violations and been ignored.

He and Bass managed to imply the city was to blame for his irresponsibility, saying now that his plans are moving forward, he’ll be removing some of the worst blight. To me, that sounds like an admission that he was intentionally using the deplorable condition of the property in a carrot and stick game. That’s not what I would call a recommendation for a planning commissioner.

I’m no more pleased with the performance of Ryan Sundberg, the Fifth District supervisor, on planning and land use issues. I had high hopes for him, but his lock step cooperation with Bass, Rex Bohn and Estelle Fennell dashed them. All four have been supported with large campaign contributions from the same big players who benefit from development. I thank Sharon Latour for running against Sundberg, but I fear her chances are very slim.

It takes a well organized and well financed campaign to unseat an incumbent. She doesn’t have either, and the election is just two months away. Starting with zero name recognition, she would have to devote every minute between now and June to just make a respectable showing.

However, the big-money donors don’t restrict themselves to supporting candidates in their own districts, and we shouldn’t either. Chris Kerrigan, an eight-year veteran of the Eureka City Council at an young age, is running against Bass, and he has a genuine chance. The Fourth District consists mostly of Eureka, and his name recognition there puts him in a strong position.

He also has support in the community – perhaps not as powerful or wealthy as Bass does – but useful none the less. The challenge is to motivate those folks to abandon their tendency to sit out the political process. So far, Bass is doing her part with the McKenny story.

Kerrigan has the enthusiasm, but he needs volunteers and financial contributions. It would be nice to have two supervisors on the board who listen to all the input. They’d still be out-voted, but at least Mark Lovelace wouldn’t be such a lonely voice in the wilderness. And it might encourage some more moderate candidates to get started early running against Bohn and Fennell in 2016.

 

Elizabeth Alves notes that Bass has raised more than $75,000 in contributions, while Kerrigan has raised less than $10,000. Comments and suggestions are welcome care of the Union or to [email protected]

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