A few weeks ago I attended the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors meeting to voice my opposition to Estelle Fennell’s latest proposal to criminalize Humboldt County’s impoverished underclass. She wanted County Council to explore the feasibility of imposing a countywide overnight parking ban. This is just Estelle’s latest cruel attempt to criminalize human need. First, she pushed through an ordinance to prohibit people from asking for help. Then she made it illegal to sleep outside. Now she wants to make it illegal to park overnight anywhere in the county.
Not that long ago, at Shop Smart in Redway, around 11pm, on our way home from somewhere, a woman stopped us to ask our advice. She had just driven all day with her six-year-old son to get to Redway. In the morning, she planned to attend an event at the Heartwood Institute. She’d been to Heartwood before, but it had been some time ago, and she didn’t feel confident about driving the remaining thirty miles or so of steep, narrow, twisted, poorly maintained, roads at night, in the rain. She asked us if we knew of a safe place she could park her mini-van overnight, so that she and her son could get a few hours of sleep before they drove the rest of the way in the morning.
We understood her situation completely. We’ve been to Heartwood, once. I wouldn’t try to drive those roads, at night, in the rain, if I could possibly avoid it. Hell, I wouldn’t try to drive to my place in the dark and rain if I didn’t know the way so well. I also wouldn’t drop thirty dollars on a campsite just so we could turn the engine off, climb in the back and get a few hours sleep before we drove the rest of the way in the morning. If we made $106,000+ a year, like Estelle Fennell, and had political motivation to patronize local businesses, we’d probably get a hotel room, but we survive because we don’t blow money on shit we don’t want or need, and we sure don’t need to be woken up and given a ticket.
We didn’t have a good answer for this poor woman and her son. We warned her that Locals on Patrol had a reputation for harassing people who try to sleep in their vehicles, and that a Sheriff’s Deputy or CHP officer might pay them a visit as well. We discussed the general lay of the land, and wished her luck. It was the best we could do for her.
At the Board of Supervisors meeting, Supervisor Fennell showed pictures of the terrible fire that burned the Presbyterian Church in Garberville about a month ago. A fire in an RV parked next to the church, spread, and burned a portion of the church before being extinguished by firefighters. Estelle complained that the RV had been parked there for an extended period of time, and proposed that if we just ban overnight parking all over the county, we can prevent fires in campers from spreading to churches in the future.
Estelle also reminded us of one of her first ordinances that made life harder for people in Southern Humboldt, the one that banned overnight parking on the Sprowell Creek Rd. Overpass Bridge. That overpass was an ideal location for people who needed to get off the road for a little shut-eye. It has easy access to the highway, and all of the gas stations in Garberville, but it’s quiet, has very little traffic, and minimal impact on residential neighborhoods. Almost all of the RVs in town used to park there. If Estelle Fennell hadn’t pressed for that overnight parking ban on the Sprowell Creek Overpass Bridge years ago, the camper that caught fire probably would have been safely parked on that bridge, far from any structures. The Presbyterian Church would still be intact, and firefighters would have had a much easier fire to fight.
Further, the fire that started in the camper may well have been an act of arson. We have had a rash of such attacks recently. Arsonists in SoHum have torched numerous vehicles, including many campers and Rvs, on county roads in the last several years. You can still see the remains of a recently torched RV on Briceland Rd west of Redway. In February of 2015 Ron Machado and his belongings were set on fire in broad daylight in downtown Garberville. Additionally, Weston Coen, Joe Turner, and James Wallace, among others were all severely beaten on the streets of Garberville, in a wave of violence against the poor and homeless, and no one has been held accountable in any of these crimes. If Supervisor Fennell had done anything at all about the wave of vigilante violence and arson in Southern Humboldt, not only could she have saved lives, she might have saved the Garberville Presbyterian Church too.
Not only that, but if Estelle Fennell, and the rest of our Board of Supervisors had just listened to the Humboldt County Human Rights Commission, last Summer, when the Human Right Commission advised the Board of Supervisors to declare a shelter crisis in Humboldt County, most of the violence we’ve seen in Southern Humboldt, recently, could have been prevented. The HRC looked extensively at the facts on the ground, and determined that Humboldt County faces a real shelter crisis, and advised the Board of Supervisors to declare it.
Declaring a shelter crisis would make some public land available for camping and emergency housing, and relax certain housing regulations to make more structures available for habitation. Declaring a shelter crisis could have relieved a lot of pressure on downtown Garberville, and prevented numerous assaults on homeless people. Declaring a shelter crisis could have gotten all of the campers off of Garberville’s residential side streets, and onto a designated lot, preventing the fire at the Presbyterian Church, and declaring a shelter crisis would have saved people’s lives. Instead, because the Board of Supervisors ignored the recommendations of the Human Rights Commission, several people are dead, others were violently assaulted, many more lost their homes, and the Garberville Presbyterian Church burned.
Time was, the Federal prohibition on marijuana was the only law you needed to bust poor people, and push them around. Now that marijuana is legal, Estelle Fennell has risen to the occasion with a whole slew of new laws designed to keep cops busy harassing people who are just trying to survive, instead of investigating real crimes, like the ones her supporters commit. The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors has a responsibility to protect and serve the inadequately housed residents of Humboldt County, as well as the well-housed, and we have enough stupid laws already, more than we have resources to enforce.
I remember when Estelle campaigned against her predecessor, Cliff Clendennon, who had just voted in favor of an unpopular resolution to prohibit camping around the courthouse, because of the “Occupy” protests going on there at the time. Estelle said that she didn’t think she would support a law that limited people’s rights that much. Instead, once elected, she passed laws that violate people’s rights all over the county. These draconian new ordinances Estelle and her colleagues have dreamed up are exactly the kinds of laws that the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva condemns the US for, calling them “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.” That’s what I call them too, and we’ve had more than enough of them from Second District Supervisor Estelle Fennell, already.