Fifth District Supervisor Candidates Talk Jobs, Marijuana and More

Humboldt County 5th District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg, left, and challenger Sharon Latour, center, answered questions during the moderated Voters’ Forum on Friday, April 11, in McKinleyville./Photo by Kristan Korns, Two Rivers Tribune

By KRISTAN KORNS, Two Rivers Tribune

Both candidates for Humboldt County’s 5th District Supervisor’s seat answered questions from community members at the Voters’ Forum held at Azalea Hall in McKinleyville on Friday, April 11.

The 5th District covers slightly less than half of the County’s northeastern section, including McKinleyville, Trinidad, Orick, Hoopa, Weitchpec, Willow Creek and Orleans.

Incumbent Ryan Sundberg and challenger Sharon Latour each talked about their stances on everything from medical marijuana, to jobs and business creation, to the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA).

Heather Vina, executive director of the McKinleyville Chamber of Commerce, moderated. “The audience will get to write questions, then I’ll ask them, and the candidates each have a minute to respond.”

Sundberg, when asked about his vision for the 5th District, said, “In the time I’ve been here – a little over three years – we’ve made a lot of positive changes. One of the things I’m really proud of is our relationships with the tribes in the County.”

“We were able to save the ambulance service on the 299 corridor in partnership with the Hoopa Tribe,” Sundberg said, adding that he would push for development of a business park at the County’s airport in his next term.

Latour said she supported the Central Avenue “facelift” for downtown McKinleyville and she wants to “increase conversations with our outlying citizens.”

“Willow Creek has some conversations that really need to happen. I’m looking forward to having office hours in Willow Creek and not just in Eureka,” Latour said, adding that she planned to attend the Hoopa Valley Tribal Council meeting on Thursday, April 17.

There were sharp contrasts between the two candidates in terms of their experience and education.

Sundberg was born and raised in Humboldt County, graduated from the College of the Redwoods and earned a degree in business administration from Humboldt State University. He was on the Trinidad Rancheria Tribal Council for 14 years.

“I pretty much have a family member or friend everywhere in the 5th District that I can call on,” Sundberg said.

Latour was born in Montreal, naturalized as an American citizen, and served 20 years in the U.S. Air Force before retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel. She has a BA in sociology, four master’s degrees, and a PhD in athletic and leadership theory.

“The military was huge for me. It’s all about conflict resolution, teamwork, and pre-planning that saves time and money,” Latour said.

Sundberg, who has served as 5th District Supervisor for three years and as Board Chairperson for a year, seemed comfortable talking about the County’s budget, agricultural programs, and the

Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA), while Latour sometimes stumbled over details.

“I look forward to learning about that as Supervisor,” Latour said.

Both candidates supported the In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) workers’ quest for salary increases in principle, but were unsure of where the money would come from when salaries are frozen and the County is looking at a $2 million budget shortfall.

The candidates disagreed on Caltrans’ proposed widening of Highway 101 in Richardson’s Grove.

Sundberg said, “The fact is that there are only a few trees that are going to be cut and none of them are over ten inches in size.”

“Having that route be STAA-accessible, where bigger trucks can go through, is going to save a lot of money for business that need to ship out,” Sundberg said. “I think we need to do whatever we can to support them and make their costs of production and transportation less.”

Latour said, “To begin with Richardson Grove and make that more accessible will be the beginning of a superhighway connecting 299, I-5, and 101. It will change forever our County and our part of Northern California.”

“We will be a wide spot in the road for trucking coming from Oregon and going right through us. We have to have access to external markets, but we don’t need a superhighway,” Latour said, suggesting that harbor and airport improvements would be better.

Latour and Sundberg also disagreed on how important the Planning Commission changes were to the general plan update’s guiding principles.

“The guiding principles are the roadmap to how to do the general plan – how you get to a certain spot – and we’re already 80 percent of the way through it,” Sundberg said. “I know there are some people who felt strongly about it, but I just don’t see how it made a huge impact.”

Latour said, “One principle said ‘protect natural resources, especially open spaces, water resources, water quality, scenic beauty and salmon habitat’ and now it says ‘support individual rights to live in urban, suburban, rural and remote areas’.”

“It went from being an environmental mandate that the people crafted for all of the general plan updates to follow, to being an exploitative interpretation,” Latour said.

One question from the audience was about how the candidates would help bring jobs to Willow Creek.

Latour said there needs to be a conversation about safety in Willow Creek. “They have some real security concerns, with repeat thefts in broad daylight at the grocery store.”

“It’s worth pointing out that the economy that does flourish there, medical marijuana, is on the horizon as being a real regulated economic boost,” Latour said.

Sundberg said, “I just recently helped draft a marijuana ordinance to put limits on how much medical marijuana can be grown in the neighborhoods, which has a huge impact on businesses because people come through and hang out.”

“Another thing they need is a sewer system in Willow Creek,” Sundberg said. “Those businesses can’t grow without a sewer system.”

The candidates also responded to a question asking what the most pressing issues are for Native Americans in the district.

Sundberg said, “The most pressing issue is poverty. It’s a huge problem on the reservations.”

“They’re independent governments, so the County doesn’t have any authority over tribes; but what we can do is be a partner,” Sundberg said. “We’ve partnered with them on Trinity River issues and on ambulance services.”

Sundberg, “I’ve demonstrated in this term that we can work successfully together and create trust between the County and the tribes.”

Latour said, “I don’t hear our indigenous people’s voices and that bothers me. So I’m going to go to the Hoopa Council meeting on Thursday, and I very much want to be welcomed to the other tribal areas and get to know the people.”

When asked what they can bring to the 5th District Supervisor’s office that the other candidate can’t, both Latour and Sundberg said their opponent was a nice person before answering.

Latour said, “I have 20 years more of life, problem solving, good choices and bad choices, and a lot of success stories in a lot of different arenas where I took calculated risks over and over; so I have the benefit of experience.”

Sundberg said, “I grew up here, I’m raising a family here and I plan on never moving from here, so I’m very aware that the policies and the issues that we’re dealing with today are going to affect the environment that my daughter grows up in.”

Both candidates will appear in a live televised debate on Monday, May 12, starting at 7 pm on KEET digital television channel 11, and streamed online from Access Humboldt.

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