The Humboldt County board of supervisors voted lasted Tuesday afternoon to adopt revisions to the county's urgency ordinance that were initially proposed more than one month ago.
On a motion by 2nd District supervisor Clif Clendenen, the board voted 3-2, with supervisor Mark Lovelace and supervisor Virginia Bass dissenting, to enact the changes to the county's urgency ordinance. As part of the motion, the board opted to direct staff to continue working with the Humboldt Human Rights Commission on further revisions, and add in a paragraph suggested by Lovelace that would affirm people's existing rights.
In addition, the board voted unanimously to have Lovelace and 1st District supervisor Rex Bohn serve on a subcommittee that would work with staff and the Humboldt Human Rights Commission on future changes.
Lovelace said he voted against the initial motion because it doesn't make sense to approve a revised ordinance just to turn around and revise it again. He advocated the board repeal the urgency ordinance and work on a new pared-down one. He said he likes some of the ideas in the revised ordinance, but not all of them.
”I do believe there are good things to have in here in advance of another event,” Lovelace said.
The urgency ordinance was originally enacted in March in an effort to address health and safety issues in front of the county courthouse that were associated with the Occupy Movement. Since June, the supervisors have been eyeing changes to the ordinance.
During the board's Aug. 14 meeting, supervisors opted to delay voting on proposed changes to the ordinance in order to give the Humboldt Human Rights Commission more time to review the draft alterations, at the commission's request. At that time, commissioners expressed interest in providing specific feedback to the board.
Commissioner Maggie Herbelin read a letter during public comment that was sent to the board before the meeting. It stated the entire urgency ordinance needs to be repealed, and that it is overreaching.
It also stated no new legislation should be put in its place. Herbelin said the commission didn't have a lot of time during its Sept. 10 meeting to discuss specifics.
”We really all felt we needed more time to do what we have to do,” Herbelin said.
That notion was also expressed by commissioner Byrd Lochtie, who spoke on her own behalf. She said the commission doesn't receive any county funding and was unable to secure a place to meet at the courthouse in the evening hours, without having to pay for a security guard. She said half of the commissioners were unable to attend the four-hour afternoon meeting and that there wasn't enough time to address all the important issues.
”Also, the public's insistence on participating in the commission's discussion made it very difficult for the commissioners to discuss the many points of the ordinance and write a cohesive letter before the building was closed,” Lochtie said.
After hearing public comment from 17 people - all but one asking the board to repeal the ordinance - the supervisors discussed whether they should simply repeal the ordinance and bring back a new one or approve the revisions in front of them.
The revisions include deleting part of the ordinance that prohibits people from being on the courthouse grounds from 9:30 p.m. to 6 a.m., and making initial violations of the new ordinance infractions rather than misdemeanors. The revised ordinance also allows people to have tables and free standing signs or displays from sunrise to sunset that are attended and placed at least four feet apart.
Revisions were proposed as a result of a 3-2 vote of the supervisors June 19, with then-1st District supervisor Jimmy Smith and Clendenen dissenting, that directed county staff to look at modifying the ordinance. The original ordinance was enacted March 27 in a 4-1 vote, with Lovelace dissenting.
While Clendenen, Bohn and 5th District supervisor Ryan Sundberg were adamant about keeping some form of the ordinance in place Tuesday, 4th District supervisor Virginia Bass entertained Lovelace's idea of repealing the ordinance and bringing a new one back.
Bass said if it were repealed, she hopes the current respect and cooperation shown in front of the courthouse would continue. She expressed concern about repealing the ordinance and having the situation deteriorate.
”We have been seeing improvement, but that's because we've asked for help,” Bass said.
Bohn said there are still a number of things in the ordinance that need to be addressed, but that the ordinance should stay in place in some form so the courthouse steps don't become a camping area again. He said his constituents have urged him to keep the courthouse clean.
”I have so many people saying they were intimidated,” Bohn said. __Clendenen and Lovelace both discussed the idea of forming a subcommittee of two supervisors to work with the Humboldt Human Rights Commission and county staff to further revise the urgency ordinance.
Sundberg said he's willing to work with the Humboldt Human Rights Commission, but doesn't want to see the ordinance completely disappear.
”I think we do have to have something in place,” Sundberg said. __Clendenen agreed. He said he'd rather see the ordinance officially revised instead of just continuing to ask the Eureka Police Department and Sheriff's office not to enforce certain parts of the urgency ordinance - such as turning a blind eye to candlelight vigils after 9:30 p.m.
”I think it's important to have an actual legal piece and not just a law enforcement request,” Clendenen said.
The revised ordinance will be set for adoption by the board at least one week away, per government code. Bohn and Lovelace will work with county staff and the Humboldt Human Rights Commission to look at additional specific revisions.