In the first months of 2014, running unopposed for his second term as Eureka's mayor, Frank Jager found himself doing a lot of reading. He was researching his grandfather, a member of the Pottawatomi, a Great Plains tribe that fought alongside the French in the French and Indian War in the 1700s. In the aftermath of the war, the tribe was removed from its historic homelands and relocated to Oklahoma and Kansas.


That got Jager thinking about the removal of the Wiyot from Tuluwat, and Humboldt County's own legacy of genocide and theft. As mayor of Eureka and the grandfather of two Wiyot girls, he thought he could offer a simple gesture to heal old wounds, so he spent a weekend in mid-March drafting a letter to the tribe.


"In February 1860, 154 years ago, citizens from Eureka participated in what has been described as a massacre of unfathomable proportions," the letter began, going on to describe the attack on "that winter night long ago" when women and children were slaughtered. "As Mayor of Eureka, and on behalf of the city council and the people of Eureka, we would like to offer a formal apology to the Wiyot people for the actions of our people in 1860. Nothing we say or do can make up for what occurred on that night of infamy. It will forever be a scar on our history. We can, however, with our present and future actions of support for the Wiyot work to remove the prejudice and bigotry that still exist in our society today."


The letter was released to the public before it underwent legal review by then City Attorney Cyndy Day-Wilson, which posed a problem. While many in the public found the letter a heartfelt and long-overdue apology to take responsibility and make amends for a more than century-and-a-half-old massacre, Day-Wilson saw a financial liability. While legal experts widely agreed that was nonsense — that apologizing for a crime carried out by unknown people 14 years before Eureka was officially incorporated would in no way expose the city to liability — the council followed Day-Wilson's advice and edited the letter, removing mention of who attacked the Wiyot that day or anyone being sorry for it.


Jager's letter had been gutted.


"Of all the things that happened when I was the mayor, that was probably the most disappointing," he said, adding that some weeks later he traveled south to the Wiyot Tribe's Table Bluff Reservation to address the tribal council and apologize to them as a private citizen.


Recollections of that meeting differ. Jager says he recalls apologizing and telling the council about how he hoped to see the city erect a monument on the island commemorating the massacre. But Hernandez, the Wiyot Tribal chair, says he recalls it differently.


"He apologized and said, 'What else can we do?'" Hernandez says. "We said, 'Return the island.'"


What's clear is that Jager's gesture with the letter opened the door for something more, pushing both the tribe and the city to rethink what was possible.


"For him to come to the tribe and to apologize, I thought that was courageous," Seidner says. "I was happy that evening."


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A series of zone reclassifications that would change what kinds of activities are allowed in various Humboldt County areas triggered significant pushback from locals last month, prompting the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday to push zoning decisions on several areas to May.


"Rezoning" of areas in Willow Creek, Blue Lake, Glendale, and McKinleyville will be held for the time-being, partly to allow those individual communities to have a say in how the land is classified. 


"I really hope that people out there are going to re-engage and recognize this is their chance to speak up for the community and try their best to speak to the things that would benefit their community," said 5th District Supervisor Steve Madrone.


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Humboldt County’s recently-updated General Plan is more controversial than ever and has hit a wall of opposition as the Board of Supervisors considers its implementation. 

 

At a December 11 hearing, supervisors took up the rezoning of hundreds of thousands of parcels in accordance with the General Plan’s land use maps. The plan’s text and maps direct changes that include increasing residential densities and designating industrial uses. 

 

Last month, the county’s Planning Commission recommended that the board approve most of the rezones and set aside a few controversial ones for community planning processes. 

 

Explaining the commission’s reasoning, Senior Planner Michael Richardson outlined the public process that led to the General Plan’s approval. Between 2000 and 2015, it included 47 community workshops, 111 Planning Commission meetings and 75 Board of Supervisors meetings. 

 

When Richardson said that the Planning Commission believes “the public has been heard,” including in the Glendale and Fieldbrook areas, the audience responded with a round of sarcastic laughter and jeers. 

 

Earlier, Richardson told supervisors that the commission is “comfortable” with the public process. The audience again sounded off, this time with approval, when Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson said that although a majority vote was gained at the commission’s November hearing, it was “anything but comfortable.” 

 

“The entitlements that you would be giving to change the zoning on these parcels today has not been fully addressed in the EIR for the General Plan,” said Jen Kalt of Humboldt Baykeeper. 

 

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Many questions unanswered about ordinance that would rezone 500K acres of Humboldt

Shortly after the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors convenes in the New Year, it will face a massive and controversial package of zoning changes that will bring new land use designations to almost 500,000 acres throughout the county, after board discussions on the matter stalled Dec. 11.

 

That meeting saw more than 50 members of the public speak in opposition to the proposal, discussion of which began at 10:30 a.m. and stretched into the midafternoon, with only a 15-minute break. Much of that time was spent discussing changes to a single set of parcels on the banks of the Mad River close to the intake wells of the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District. But other areas of contention arose, as well.

 

Clearly frustrated with some of the public comment, some of the supervisors said that the proposed land use designation changes had already been made last October when the board approved the county's General Plan Update. The proposed zoning changes are a formality, they said. Judging from their comments, the public wasn't buying it.

 

By 10 a.m., the supervisors chamber was packed with a long line of people standing in the back and extending out the door. Even four and a half hours into the meeting, the room remained half full.

 

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The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association has filed a lawsuit against 30 leading fossil fuel industry and leading oil companies, including Exxon Mobil and Chevron, citing links between the use of fossil fuels for combustion and warming ocean temperatures that has led to increased level of naturally occurring neurotoxins in the crab, specifically domoic acid.

 

“I’m pleased to see lawsuits like this moving forward because for decades the fossil fuel industry has been wrecking the planet and wrecking the oceans and impacting the fishing industry,” said North Coast Congressman Jared Huffman. “Just like with the cigarette companies, who were held accountable for their actions, and just like the auto industry was held accountable for building exploding Pintos, it’s time to bring the same accountability to the oil industry.”

 

“I’m no oceanographer, but it’s pretty clear the ocean conditions are being exacerbated by our actions and those changing ocean conditions have been going on for some time,” said Jen Kalt, director of Humboldt Baykeeper. “I hope the goal is to recognize that it’s not an abstract concept, the fossil fuel industry is destroying people’s livelihoods, people who rely upon the ocean to support their families and to feed others.”

 

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