The Humboldt Local Agency Formation Commission unanimously approved the Southern Humboldt Community Healthcare District’s municipal service review (MSR) at LAFCo’s regular meeting last Wednesday, Nov. 14.
The commission also readily agreed to SHCHD’s request to retain its sphere of influence - the area where expansion is expected within the next five years - in its current form, "coterminous" (identical) to its current service boundaries.
LAFCo is a countywide agency comprised of representatives of the county, cities, special districts, and the public at large. It is responsible for reviewing and approving boundary changes, creation and dissolution of new cities and districts, reducing sprawl and protecting agricultural land, and streamlining government structure.
Under a state law called the Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg Act and its many amendments, every county in California except San Francisco County is required to have a LAFCo. All agencies within a LAFCo’s jurisdiction must complete periodic MSRs and sphere of influence updates to promote orderly growth.
Collette Metz, LAFCo administrator, summarized the written MSR, which she prepared in collaboration with SHCHD staff and board, for the commissioners. District representatives were "very helpful," she said.
Metz also noted that she was present at SHCHD’s public strategic plan workshop in Garberville last July, and found the workshop to be a productive way to involve the community in planning for the district’s future.
SHCHD’s main challenges include building up reserves to meet state seismic standards by 2025 and recruiting permanent, community-based medical staff, a problem shared by many rural districts, Metz reported.
"[SHCHD] has survived a lot of challenges," noted 2nd district supervisor Clif Clendenen, one of two supervisors representing county government on LAFCo. Most helpful have been passage of the parcel tax and the federal Critical Access Hospital designation, which provides better reimbursement to small rural hospitals from Medicare and Medi-Cal.
Commissioner Ken Zanzi, a Fortuna city councilman, observed that according to the report, SHCHD serves approximately 9,400 residents within its boundaries and had approximately 2,700 emergency room visits and 13,728 outpatient visits.
This comes to about 1.5 visits per resident, Zanzi calculated, and he wondered what the impact of Southern Humboldt’s seasonal transient population is on these statistics.
Fourth district supervisor Virginia Bass, who chairs LAFCo as well as the board of supervisors, said she heard that throughout California healthcare districts are under scrutiny because they are losing the trust of the communities they serve.
Metz’s staff report states, "Some healthcare districts have faced recent fiscal challenges and have closed their hospitals. Since 2000, seven healthcare districts have declared bankruptcy... Five districts have been dissolved or otherwise reorganized since 2000."
But the report also emphasizes the significant improvement in SHCHD’s finances, its efforts to collaborate with other regional healthcare providers, and the importance of providing local health care in a community 51 miles from the next nearest hospital.
At the SHCHD’s last governing board meeting, the board members discussed whether to expand boundaries of their sphere of influence to take in the Ettersburg-Honeydew-Petrolia area, but concluded that residents of these areas were more likely to go to Redwood Memorial in Fortuna rather than Garberville for medical services, including emergencies.
Therefore the report recommended maintaining SHCHD’s sphere of influence coterminous with its present service boundaries.
In another matter of interest to SoHum, LAFCo executive officer George Williamson reported briefly on a meeting he attended last month with representatives of Garberville Sanitary District, the Southern Humboldt Community Park, and county planning staff.
GSD is still working on its annexation proposal and SHCP still has a long way to go on its General Plan Amendment request, but Williamson felt that all parties left the meeting "with a better understanding of what needs to be done."
During the later budget report, Williamson also said that GSD’s business manager had told him that LAFCo would soon be paid for outstanding costs for staff time assisting with the annexation process.
Another agenda item, proposed changes to Humboldt LAFCo’s out-of-agency service policy, may also affect GSD’s annexation application, as well as that of other districts.
Currently Humboldt LAFCo’s policy is to allow districts or cities to serve properties outside their district boundaries for health and safety reasons only if the city or district plans to annex the area within the near future.
This has been an issue for GSD, which received LAFCo approval to serve the Kimtu subdivision last year after much wrangling.
Policy revisions proposed last week would allow districts to provide water or wastewater services to properties outside their districts when there is an "impending threat to public health and safety" without requiring future annexation.
This brings Humboldt LAFCo’s policy in line with the Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg Act, which does allow service without annexation under certain conditions.
The crucial condition, in addition to the provider’s willingness and capacity to serve, is that the service goes only to existing residences and is not used to facilitate new development. Service to new development requires an annexation process and approval by LAFCo.
Additionally, in emergency situations when a decision is needed before the commission has time to meet, the executive officer will be authorized to approve the service as long as both the provider and the property owner understand that the approval is only tentative and may be overturned at the next commission meeting.
After a thorough discussion and some clarifying changes of wording, the commissioners approved this proposal unanimously.
In a special agenda item, chair Bass presented former LAFCo chair Marty McClelland with CALAFCo’s 2012 Distinguished Service Award. CALAFCo, the statewide association of LAFCos, presents this award annually to "a member of the LAFCo community to recognize their long-term service and achievement."
Bass accepted the award on McClelland’s behalf at CALAFCo’s recent conference.
McClelland, a planning consultant and former county planning director, served as LAFCo’s public member for 17 years and was chair of the commission for 16 of those years.
The award, a handsome framed certificate, states that it is given "in recognition of [his] commitment to principles of Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg and effective government."
McClelland thanked the commissioners. "It was a great experience... really educational and interesting..." he said. "And I wish you well."
Certificates of appreciation were also presented to commissioners Clendenen, Zanzi, and Ferndale mayor Jeff Farley, all of whom are vacating their seats as of the November meeting.
LAFCo’s next meeting will be held Wednesday, Jan. 16, at 9 a.m. in the board of supervisors’ chambers at the county courthouse in Eureka. The public is welcome to attend and public comment is taken on all items.
For more information, see LAFCO’s website, www.humboldtlafco.org, where complete meeting materials are available.