Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – Humboldt County supervisors discussed the importance of gender diversity in making an appointment to the Planning Commission but also emphasized that their female pick is the most qualified of 16 candidates.
Arcata Planning Commissioner Melanie McCavour, an environmental impact assessment consultant and environmental sciences and management lecturer at Humboldt State University, was appointed to an at-large county Planning Commission seat at the January 15 Board of Supervisors meeting.
McCavour emerged as the board’s leading choice, with McKinleyville resident Peggy O’Neill, the Yurok tribe’s planning director, also included in every supervisor’s list of top three applicants.
Following the meeting, recently-seated Fifth District Supervisor Steven Madrone appointed O’Neill as his district’s representative on the commission. She replaces Ben Shepherd, who Madrone sometimes criticized before being elected.
Shepherd was in the running for the board-appointed seat, as he’s moving from McKinleyville to the First District.
Addressing supervisors, McCavour described her approach to assessing environmental impacts as “apolitical” and multidimensional.
“I think the most important things when you’re looking at any issue are economic development, community development in terms of services that are provided and of course, conservation of ecosystem services, which our economies and our people all depend on,” she said. “And in terms of analyzing that, I think it’s important that we look at science and social science.”
McCavour replaces Commissioner Dave Edmonds, who resigned shortly before his term ended. There were no women on the commission before McCavour was appointed by the board and O’Neill was appointed by Madrone.
“They are the two most qualified, from my review, and it just so happens that they are women,” said Supervisor Mike Wilson said. But later, he added that “gender and cultural background” bring specific experience that’s valuable.
Madrone also vouched for varying the commission’s membership.
“I, too, feel that the current Planning Commission doesn’t fully reflect our community and I think that there is a large under-represented group there, and that would be women in particular,” he said.
Madrone said he’d support appointing either McCavour or O’Neill.
O’Neill highlighted her range of experience, which includes working on road improvement and wastewater projects. “I have a very diverse background, I understand construction and development but I also understand the protection of natural resources,” she told supervisors.
She added that the commission’s membership needs “more diversity.”
Supervisor Estelle Fennell said Carol Hoopes, the owner of Monument Mountain Vineyards in Rio Dell, would balance the “north-heavy” makeup of the commission but she chose McCavour as her top pick due to her extensive “expertise.”
Supervisor Virginia Bass related that she’s been pressured to appoint a woman and downplayed its influence.
“If I hear one more person call me and say, ‘You have to appoint a woman’ or my other friends calling and saying, “I hear you have to,’ well, you know what – I understand the importance of diversity but that still does not overshadow the need for qualifications,” she said.
Bass named three female candidates as her ranked preferences, with McCavour as the first.
She said that “while (McCavour) comes from academia and science, she really works to bring real world experience into her classes,” having invited Chris Dart of Danco Builders to make a presentation to students.
The board’s vote to appoint McCavour was unanimous.