By Will Houston
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The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted during its Tuesday meeting to place an ordinance prohibiting the cultivation and growing of genetically modified organisms, known as GMOs, in Humboldt County before the voters in November.
Several members of the public attended the meeting to urge the board to pass the ordinance during the meeting rather than put it on the ballot.
Eureka Natural Foods owner Rick Littlefield said the initiative will strengthen the Humboldt Made campaign’s mission to promote local businesses and will give the area its own characterization in the market.
“You need to decide which side of this food decision this county wants to be on,” Littlefield said.
If the ordinance passes, producers would have until Jan. 1, 2016 to convert to a GMO-free operation. Stores would still be allowed to buy, sell and distribute GMO foods, and research institutions would be able to use GMO products for experiments.
A Ferndale farmer who identified himself as John said he was a GMO farmer who had converted to organic practices, but said the initiative would take away farmers’ rights to choose.
“I urge you to put this vote to the voters,” he said. “We don’t need to pit farmer versus farmer. We don’t need any more regulations.”
GMO Free Humboldt spokesman Bill Schaser warned the board that if it did not pass the measure itself, large companies such as Monsanto would pour funding into opposing the initiative during the election as it had done in other counties.
“We’re going to have a big battle,” he said. “And it’s not going to be a local fight.”
County Agricultural Commissioner Jeff Dolf said the ordinancewould be enforced by a complaint- driven system.
With nearly 8,500 signatures collected in support of the measure, 1st District Supervisor and board Chairman Rex Bohn said that it is important for the rest of the county to have its input.
“The pretense was to bring this before the voters,” Bohn said. “I don’t want to be cutting edge by cutting out the voters.”
Several members of the board expressed concern over the lack of language in the initiative, which would render the county unable to amend it without introducing a new ballot measure.
Though 3rd District Supervisor Mark Lovelace supported the board passing the ordinance during the meeting, the board unanimously voted to place the measure on the ballot.
Earlier in the meeting, the board voted to direct staff to poll the county on a potential tax measure for the November ballot that would be used to address increased complaints of crime and theft in unincorporated areas. The discussion came after residents in McKinleyville and Southern Humboldt mailed letters to the board citing a lack of law enforcement presence in their area.
County Undersheriff Bill Honsal said this is first time his office has recalled having to reduce nighttime staffing levels.
“The nighttime areas in Willow Creek and Southern Humboldt do not have a patrol function,” he said. “We have six deputies patrolling at night from McKinleyville and Blue Lake all the way out to the Eel River Valley. It only takes one or two calls at the nighttime hour before our patrol base is saturated.”
In the poll, which will cost the county about $42,000 to conduct, residents in both incorporated and unincorporated areas of the county will be asked whether they would support two possible measures: a 3 percent utility users tax with an attached 45 percent excessive energy use tax on residences that use above 600 percent above the baseline amount or a three-fourths percent sales tax. Both taxes would be a general tax, which would require a majority county vote. The board plans to have an advisory committee monitor the revenues from the tax to ensure that they are used for law enforcement purposes.
Second District Supervisor Estelle Fennell had concerns about incorporated county residents being asked to vote on an ordinance that would only tax unincorporated area residents, especially with other cities like Eureka putting their own tax measures on the ballot.
“I think the people who would live in the unincorporated areas wouldn’t feel good about people in the cities telling them they have to pay a tax,” she said.
After deliberations on whether to include only one of the proposed taxes in the poll, the board voted to include both and to begin polling in June. The board has until July 22 to approve a tax measure for the November ballot.
Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504.