Two weeks ago, at a festive reception and awards ceremony in downtown Sacramento, First District Supervisor Rex Bohn was installed as chair of the Rural County Representatives of California (RCRC).
Four of the county’s five supervisors were in attendance, along with several prominent local business leaders, some members of county staff, State Senator Mike McGuire and others.
Some of these folks drove down to the state Capitol. But others traveled in private planes on flights donated by two local business leaders. One plane, a 2004 Pilatus PC-12, is owned by ACV Group LLC, a corporation whose CEO, Justin Zabel, is president of local construction firm Mercer-Fraser — a company with a controversial project currently pending before the Board of Supervisors.
Fifth District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg was on that flight, though he opted to pay for his seat (more on that later). A second plane, belonging to Shafer’s Ace Hardware owner Jack Rieke, carried Second District Supervisor Estelle Fennell, D’Amico and Sheriff William Honsal.
Mercer-Fraser, as you may recall, is currently petitioning the county with a controversial re-zone request for property it owns along the Mad River near Glendale. The Eureka construction firm wants the zoning on its 13.5-acre parcel changed to heavy industrial so it can build a 5,000-square-foot commercial cannabis extraction manufacturing facility (a hash lab, effectively) onsite.
Now that cannabis operations are legitimate business in California, established business leaders like Zabel are getting in on the game. And they have friends in high places. Supervisors, Lee said, come into office with “a whole set of relationships in the community. It’s generally why they get elected.”
Bass made a similar point. “We all know each other in this community; we’re all friends,” she said. “A lot of us have been friends way prior to our political world.”
But Jennifer Kalt, director of Humboldt Baykeeper and a critic of Mercer-Fraser’s Glendale project, said personal relationships shouldn’t be allowed to influence public policy.
“I’m constantly shocked how people just shrug and act like the oligarchy of developers around here is just the way it is, like there’s nothing we can do about it,” she said. As for Sundberg’s flight to Sacramento, Kalt said, “I think it’s outrageous.”