Humboldt County, CA March 7, 2000 Election
Smart Voter

Statements from various interviews

By Carlos E. Benemann

Candidate for Supervisor; County of Humboldt; District 1

This information is provided by the candidate
Specific questions asked on KINS and KEET-TV
1. How would you like to see Headwaters Forest monies paid to the County used?

The county has wisely,decided to hold the money, eventually to be transferred into an endowment fund and earn interest until the decision is made on how to use the monies. I would like to see the interest used to promote, create and retain employment. When I say retain, the first choice is business that is already established here. The first priority should be given to existing enterprises because they offer the best prospect for expansion and increase in local employment. In other words focus on locally owned businesses, local entrepreneurs, especially those who show some promise to stay in Humboldt County.

We need to focus and assist groups of local businesses that have active relationships between themselves. For example the dairy industry, which includes not only primary producers but the creamery, the cheese makers, the pump service vendors, feed suppliers, trucking companies form industry clusters which offer the best opportunity not only for job creation, but also the multiplier effect of the same money changing hands within the area.

There are new clusters like that developing in Humboldt County, for example, the floral industry. I would like to explore the idea of a cooperative foreign trade zone. I also have a hunch that if we do provide properly zoned industrial space, once we have it they will come.

I support the idea of using these funds for appropriate economic development. I guess the only question is what is appropriate.The thing to watch for is that it is not frittered away.

2. Since all five supervisors vote on county-wide issues, what future development would you like to see for the McKinleyville area?

McKinleyville needs to work seriously toward incorporation with firm encouragement of the county. They need to take responsibility for their own services, especially public works, government, development and police protection. This would lift a burden from the county, and be a big step forward for McKinleyville. It is silly to have Trinidad do it with just 300 people and McKinleyville not with 40 times as many. As a member of the Local Area Formation Commission, I am aware that many people in McKinleyville are satisfied with just having a special services district, but they can do a lot better, especially when it comes to police services and planning if they take responsibility for themselves.

3. What opinions do you have on land use issues in southern Humboldt County?

What we really need to talk about is the General Plan for the whole county. What has occurred in the past with general plan revisions is that we tried to eliminate areas that were designated undefined as to their use, whether it be for business, timber production. residential or agricultural. As a consequence you have a hodge podge of uses, sometimes producing severe conflicts between residents and primary resource producers.

Let's face it, the biggest problem facing Humboldt County in reference to land use problems is our planning and permitting process. As it stands right now the Humboldt county general plan is riddled with inconsistencies especially complicated by the conflicts between county and city plans. We are just sending the wrong message to industry commerce and, for that matter, people who want to settle in unincorporated communities in southern Humboldt County.

The solution could be achieved by having a general plan remade. The Planning Dept. proposes a review which will include a pre-permitting process. In other words, a program Environmental Impact Report, which will identify those areas where businesses can start up without having to start from scratch.

That will do two things. It will improve the business climate. And it will set up safeguards and protect the environment so that CEQA reviews are not done haphazardly.

4. How will you help to develop an economically healthier Humboldt County?

Supervisors have to work through RREDEC, Economic Development Commission, Chambers of Commerce, and Private Industry Council, myriad promoters and private industries. The biggest obstacle to attracting businesses to Humboldt County are inconsistencies in our general plan and the permitting process.

When it comes to Humboldt County's economic vision, I believe that industries, transportation systems, land-use patterns and our natural resources are all inter-related elements. We need to consider these elements as a coherent whole in order to promote a healthy economy. One of the functions of the board of supervisors to integrate governmental programs to meet the needs of all the Humboldt County constituency. To do that I believe we must promote programs that have been evaluated for their long-term benefits.

My vision is to allow reasonable industrial and economic growth which will provide long-term, decent employment in Humboldt County. I am sure everybody agrees with that. To do that I intend to support environmental and social goals, prioritize infrastructure problems and support county and government programs that allow for business expansion and local job growth.

To improve the business climate in Humboldt County, the board of supervisors must adopt the recommendations drafted last month by the County Economic Development Office which includes the Planning Department.

That recommendation is to incorporate structural changes during our general plan review to make the permitting process easier.

The main change will be a pre-permitting process, in other words a program EIR which will identify those areas where businesses can start up without having to jump through CEQA review process.

It will allow us to do an environmental survey rather than piecemeal EIRs fast-tracked under political pressure, or delayed under the threat of litigation. Program EIRs are a development tool that will also help, for example, an industrial park developer not to grope around in the dark and spend endless money.

5. What suggestions do you have to help upgrade the current conditions of the county-maintained roads?

Working with CalTrans through Humboldt County Association of Governments (HCAOG) (Vice chairman) for the maintenance of the internal road system. I will pursue a reasonable budgetary appropriation for the Humboldt county Public Works Department. Of course, the problem is that everyone will promise their constituents to increase the budget for Public Works; however, the fact is such promises cannot be kept, because the budget is subject to the approval of all the supervisors and increasing the budget in one area will mean taking a slice out of another department's, which usually means social services. I would be opposed to that unless reasonable good cause can be shown when we argue the budget in public. this is probably as good a time as any for me to flat out state that I have not made and will not make any promises regarding budget shifts. The only thing I will promise is to work very hard and engage all my managerial and considerable administrative experience to make sure my constituents are given the best service for their tax dollars.

I will continue my participation of financing local road maintenance programs. The goal should be to develop and maintain a well-coordinated county-wide transportation system that provides efficient access to cities, facilities and adjoining regions. To achieve this goal, the Board needs to establish an Overall Work Program with an annual review process and management evaluation to improve coordination of County Public Works with the HCAOG board program.

6. What is the most ominous issue currently facing Humboldt County?

Godzilla? the monster of the green lagoon? Seriously, The most ominous threat in Humboldt County has always been the reality of our geological instability, in other words, a large earthquake. However, I feel the county is well-prepared for dealing with disasters. I recently participated in an emergency preparedness workshop in Maryland, sponsored by FEMA, attended by over 40 county and city leaders, public works, planners, fire departments, police and other emergency services. I was a member of the policy group. I know it was excellent training for Ferndale staff and officials, and for county participants. There is nothing we can do to prevent natural disasters, but we can be prepared.

I recently attended a tsunami workshop in Arcata. And I must tell you that I am a bit concerned about the lack of effort to inform residents in the low-lying areas of Humboldt county of the considerable risks. The times Standard some months ago, in an editorial correctly pointed out that elected officials bear responsibiity to ensure that risk information is provided to residents and communities in these low-lying areas. especially Port Kenyon, King Salmon, Manila, Samoa peninsula. This issue is certainly on my list.

7. What issues will take you the most time to develop a full understanding of?

Budget, budget, budget. As an elected mayor, I know that this is the area where elected officials exercise not only their biggest responsibility, but the allocation of funds in such a way as to provide the best services to the constituents determines the success of an administration. Having said that, I know that I must quickly understand the major components. They are not just fixing roads. 38% of the budget is spent on public assistance. I certainly think that anyone elected to this position needed to get a good grasp on the health department budget, especially the issues around community health and disease prevention. I also intend to spend considerable time on the Mental Health Department because I am interested in treatment and rehabilitation. Another really important issue to me is planning and building department, especially community plans and housing elements and the various issues involving zoning.

8. Why do you want to be a Supervisors?

I found that I like public service, especially after my last two years as the elected mayor of the city of Ferndale. I realized that political service is enjoyable and honorable. It is a huge field in which all my education and experience can be used. I also found that I am very good at it. I enjoy planning, preparing for the future, listening to people, solving problems, and, looking back with the satisfaction of accomplishing things that have immediate and far-reaching effects on many people's lives. For example, recently I attended an emergency preparedness course, specializing in earthquakes and tsunamis on the northwest coast at the Federal Emergency Management Training center in Maryland. Working with 70 selected Humboldt County, Del Norte officials on emergency planning, operations and policy was absolutely exhilarating because of the difficulty, camaraderie and absolutely interesting improvisation and interesting solutions which we engaged in in the exercise.

9. What comments do you have regarding the regionalization of County/City services?

We need to get rid of the conflicts between the cities and the county by coordinating all of our plans. Inconsistencies between the county and the cities are putting the whole region at a competitive disadvantage Because let's face it, the only parties that recognize governmental jurisdictions or boundaries are governments

As far as the coordination between the county and cities social services are concerned, let me emphasize my position about the role of government. More than the economy, more than roads, or anything else, the very first function of government is to help those members of the society who for whatever reason are temporarily or permanently unable to help themselves. The cities and the county have the same responsibilities. Rather than playing "not in my backyard" games, which was my experience as a board member of the Waste Management Authority, we must continue to work together on social problems. On this one, to be honest, there is no easy solution, we just have to keep plugging away at it.

Let me just add that it is the duty of an elected official to lead. You cannot please all the people all the time. But when we lead, we must make decisions which we believe are in the best interest of all the community. If that decision means putting a waste transfer station or a homeless shelter or troubled youth facility in Eureka, we certainly must hear the objections and consider them, but the leaders must make the decision. I will be forceful and adamant, and I am sure there will be unhappy people about my decisions. But you can be assured that at least I will make them.

10. Which of the measures on the current California state ballot do you feel the strongest about? Why?

One of the measures on the ballot typifies the abuses of the initiative and referendum system in California. The definition of marriage is already in the California civil code. There is really no need to try to do better than the legislature. Often the initiatives are attempts by special interests to by-pass the legislature and govern by ballot. It is usually wasteful, expensive, and a burden on the electorate. It is also stupid. The fact of the matter is, probably less than two percent of the electorate will read the 136 page ballot pamphlet pros and cons from cover to cover and have enough brain power left to understand it all come election time. The other 98% will do what my mother told me this morning. She said she will vote for Carlos Benemann for supervisor, and expects me to mark every single one of the ballot measures for her before she goes into the voting booth. What makes this whole process especially irritating is that all these ballot measures are worded in such a sneaky way by their proponents, that half the time if you think you are voting no, you are actually voting yes, and vice versa. In the end, truly necessary ballot measures get voted down as nos simply because everyone is so irritated by the process that they vote no on every single thing.

11. What County department do you have the highest regard for?

I am a politician, I am not going to pick out one department and praise it over any other. I truly believe that the county government workers are really making all of our lives easier. Humboldt County pays its departmental workers one of the lowest rates of compensation of any county in the state, and yet all of them manage to provide us with the services we take for granted, such as public and mental health, social services in general, court services, sheriff, public works and the myriad other services from the libraries to juvenile justice.

12. What comments do you have about Humboldt County offering a needle exchange program?

I was pleased to speak to the Board of Supervisors recently in support of this excellent program. The National Organization of Mayors (?) also supported similar programs. It should not be mistaken for a way to prevent or encourage drug use.This is a practical and relatively cheap way to deal with the spread of infectious diseases. The bottom line is, what do you want to do? If you ignore the reality of addiction, you will end up with infectious diseases spreading to the general population, such as serum hepatitis, each case of which can cost tens of thousands of dollars of public funds for uninsured victims, when a fifteen cent disposable needle will prevent further contagion. This does not include the cost of the much larger danger of the spreading contagion to insured, working, productive, non-addictive members of our society, whose work product, taxes, private insurance is lost or stressed to the limit.

The bottom line is, you must face addiction as an existing fact in need of treatment, education and clinical assistance, instead of wishing it away with bible thumping or draconian punishment by law. That has proved to be a failure because addiction is a disease, often treatable, but never cured by punishment. Puritanism is no formula for the cure of social ills. Good government will recognize the failures of the past and move toward realizing the factual situation and reality of addiction. Political grandstanding on this issue is just that.

13. What was the single issue that got you to run for this public office?

No issue. What simply happened was that I found that I like public service, especially after my last two years as the elected mayor of the city of Ferndale. I realized that political service is enjoyable and honorable.

One issue that I have been working on for many years is watershed protection, not only in regards to Francis Creek, Williams Creek and Rees Creek and the Salt and Eel River basin. On this issue I have had the opportunity to talk to innumerable state and federal representatives. I will continue that interest if elected.

14. Do you support the continuation of the added-tax on tobacco products?

I think this is one of the biggest abominations on the planet. It sounds like lets encourage smoking because we can tax it and do some good with the money. On the other hand, I would feel a lot better about it, if we would tax the living bejesus out of the marijuana smoking and consumption, because I have the feeling we could do a lot more good that way. At the very least, we would be emptying the jails and putting all those smart dealers to work paying taxes. Quite frankly, as far as that little windfall of $1.5 million that Humboldt County is deriving from the tobacco lawsuits and tax must be spent on only one item: public health and mental health. The reason simply is that addiction must be treated and money derived from the sale of addictive products such as tobacco or alcohol and any drugs should be recycled through the government to treat social ills, especially addiction.

15. What suggestions do you have for the county's indigents?

I would suggest that county and state agencies are not set up to "take care" of anyone. Each person is responsible for his or her own conduct and life. However, it is the responsibility of government to help those who cannot help themselves, to help them get into a position where they can again be responsible for themselves and their families. It is not simple. The county certainly does not have a cohesive program to deal with the addicted, the homeless, the indigent, the jobless, or the criminal, but nevertheless, the county and state governments must continue to grapple with these multitudinous, complicated problems. It is my intention to diligently work toward providing minimum human life-support, shelter, food and medicine to people who for whatever reason cannot manage on their own. I am especially concerned with the ever-spreading NIMBY because the reality is that the homeless, indigent and sick members of the community are just that: members of the community, and therefore facilities to cater to them must be in the community, our own backyard, not over the county line.

16. What have you done in the past to improve your community?

For almost ten years, I worked for no compensation in battling water and telephone rates on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce of Ferndale and the city of Ferndale before the Public Utilities Commission in San Francisco. At the same time, I was instrumental in creating the Salt River Resource Conservation District, which eventually grew to encompass all of Humboldt County. For this I received special recognition as a US Army veteran. I continued being a thorn in the side and a shit-stirrer before innumerable city council meetings, planning commission meetings and state and federal agencies for many years. They finally realized that there was only one way to channel my energy in a constructive manner and elected me in a landslide for mayor of Ferndale. The principle, of course, was that the good citizens of Ferndale figured out that it is better to have your enemies inside the tent pissing out., than outside pissing in (Abraham Lincoln)

17. What aspirations do you have beyond being a county supervisor?

Two terms and retirement. I hope during my term as supervisor I will accomplish the following: return the Eel River to its course, watershed protection, do away with CAMP, return state funding to the county.

18. What comments do you have about the County of Humboldt imposing an additional retail sales tax?

I vigorously opposed a higher sales tax to support the county jail, and I oppose it for any other reason. It would make this county even less competitive with Oregon. With serious consideration of exempting internet sales from sales tax now taking place, it would be even more foolish to try to increase the county portion of the sales tax.

19. Which State or Federal regulating entity do you feel has had the most detrimental impact on Humboldt County?

Top of the list CDF. FEMA for screwing with the railroad. CalTrans for screwing around with the railroad. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for screwing around with the return of the Eel River water from the Russian River diversion.

20. What is the most pressing issue in your district?

Flood prevention by watershed protection.

21. What makes your district so special?

No district is special. If elected I will be a supervisor for all of Humboldt County.

22. Do you feel that Rohnerville Airport or the McKinleyville Airport should be the primary airport in Humboldt County?

The McKinleyville Airport is the primary airport already. It may not be ideally placed, but it is developed as the primary airport, and we are not in the financial position to develop another primary airport. Rohnerville is totally inadequate and expansion is practically impossible there. To develop another airport in Humboldt County is equally impossible because it there is not enough money to pay for the CEQA challenges in court. As a matter of fact, we cannot even find a place in Humboldt County to race motorcycles.

23. What opinions do you have about the county efforts regarding garbage collection contracts and arrangements?

As a member of the Humboldt County Waste Management Authority, I support the current program for the purchase of the City Garbage-owned facilities on Hawthorne Street, the construction of a modern transfer station, closure of Cummings Road landfill, negotiating reasonable rates for waste disposal and encourage eventual us of the railroad for waste hauling and back-hauling. I am especially interested in an effective hazardous waste materials program and in vigorously pursuing county-wide recycling programs in cooperation with all incorporated areas.

24. What are our feelings about water issues on the Eel River and the Trinity River?

I favor the Round Valley Tribe proposal supported by the Department of the Interior, because it is the best alternative to restoring water to the Eel. The county must continue to pursue this. In the long term, the dams should be removed, but that is probably a 15 to 20 year process. There has been progress in restoring water flow to the Trinity. The county must continue to push the interests of its people and ecosystems dependent on full water flow in the Trinity. When interests in southern counties succeed in muddying the waters in these matters, it is clear that they are concerned with their own development at our expense.

25. Should county officials make comments (either as elected officials or private citizens) on land zoning issues in other jurisdictions - such as cities?

Certainly they should be able to do so. They should not take over planning from another jurisdiction or interfere. But they should be able to share their insights and experience both as officials and as private citizens. What this question really aims at is Measure J.

I agree with the voters of Eureka, I do not believe that zoning should be done by popular vote on individual issues. I believe that political pressure to promote single projects or spot-zoning is wrong. So did the voters.

In my mind, there is no doubt that the location sought by a major retailer such as Wal-Mart was inappropriate. The general plans for both the county and the city of Eureka must be reasonably immune to political pressure. I am not saying that general plans, like all plans, cannot be subject to change. But the role of the board of supervisors, in the face of inevitable change, is to manage the change with the tools that are available. In the case of Wal-Mart, that should have been the Eureka general plan.

The broad message from the failure of Measure J is that we need to get rid of the conflicts between cities and the county by coordinating all of our general plans.

26. Which county-wide commission or committee do you think has the greatest impact?

The Planning Commission. It is beginning to develop the new General Plan, which will have a tremendous impact on development of housing, industry, tourist development, and so on. It, and the Planning and Building Department, influence the cost of building in this county, and can make or break it when an industry or developer looks at this county. One of the biggest concerns is to identify sensitive watersheds and set planning criteria to mitigate cumulative effects of logging and/or additional development.

27. What are the greatest strengths of your opponents?

My opponents' greatest strengths lie in their ability to raise large amounts of campaign funds. My greatest strength lies in being able to see where problems lie, analyzing the problem and setting to work to remedy it. I started late in this campaign and did not want large corporate donations. I decided tv commercials and newspaper ads were too expensive and would be lost in the bigger political campaigns. Instead, I printed fliers and have been delivering them door to door in the district. As of this date I personally visited 6100 households. This way I have been meeting people individually, letting them know what I can actually do as a supervisor, and learning a heck of a lot about the district and some of its problems.

Another example, Ferndale has a serious flooding problem which threatens the town and its sewer plant. The previous administration talked about it, talked about grants, talked about waiting until the next emergency put the plant totally out of commission so that the state would have to step in. We have set about systematically cleaning the creek as much as possible, draining and cleaning the sewer plant lagoons to give them a little more capacity, and are planning for a created wetland similar to Arcata's.

28. What development would you like to see on Humboldt Bay?

Aquiculture expanded, waterfront development in Eureka. Also I would like to develop the idea of Jimmie Smith staying on the harbor commission because he is doing such a good job there.

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