Commissioner Darin Fowler sounded like he was starting his campaign for reelection during this week’s monthly city/county meeting between Josephine County Commissioners and representatives from the Grants Pass City Council. Although Grants Pass Mayor Sara Bristol hasn’t said anything publicly about running for another office and Councilman Brian DeLaGrange has only been suggested for a possible run, Fowler brought up the “transient issue” in the city to hammer the Mayor and DeLaGrange about how terrible they’ve been at handling the homeless in the city. Josephine County Republican Party Chair Holli Morton has spread rumors that Bristol is running for a commission seat and the Grants Pass Daily Courier, where her husband works, is plotting to get her elected by making commissioners look bad.
“I continue to field complaints with the way city’s handling the tragedy in our parks people won’t go to the park anymore. It’s pushed out all the good activities so now we’re left with driving by an eyesore and I certainly want to separate transiency from homelessness because homelessness is a totally different issue for folks. If you are homeless based on things out of your control you’re usually not the one that ends up in the park. We’re enabling transients to stay in our parks so that they don’t have to function in regular society and so I think you guys are handling it terribly. I think it’s an eyesore on our community. I can’t believe in the marquee park downtown you kicked out all the kids and families from that park and regardless of the judge’s order you guys have property all over that you could do something with and you’ve chosen not to. And so, you guys are the ones running our parks into the ground. I’m extremely disappointed that I have to field these calls for something that I don’t know if you want to look like Eugene and Portland but you got it. You got the look,” said a scowling Fowler during their Zoom meeting.
Bristol, who was told to raise her hand to be recognized by Commission Chair Dan DeYoung even though Fowler and Commissioner Herman Baertschiger jumped in whenever they had something to say, explained the situation and what the city is doing about it.
“As you know we do have a court injunction that requires us to allow camping in all of the parks except for the all-sports park. We did have a 24 hour notice we were able to give for a long time, but earlier this summer it became a 72 hour notice before we can ask anyone to pack up their stuff and move, so we’re only able to have people leave approximately twice a week and we are very aware the problem has been growing. It’s not something the council is ignoring and we are actively working on finding locations for a campground to help us establish a safe and preferred place for people to go and camp rather than camping in our parks. That still won’t change the injunction, but we’re hoping that with a place where people are welcome, where they have access to services, they will choose to go there and help clean up the parks. We’re doing the best we but I feel your accusations are pointing the finger at people who are actually trying to help solve the problem rather than being very helpful Commissioner,” said Bristol.
DeYoung suggested the city put chain link fences around parks and close them at night. He also said communities that don’t provide services, like Canyonville, don’t have any homeless. Baertschiger asked if the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) was involved in the lawsuit against the city that resulted in the injunction.
Grants Pass City Manager Aaron Cubic said it was three individuals who filed the lawsuit and explained how the city is working within the spectrum of the rules and regulations.
“We do close our parks at night but the injunction we’re operating under does provide for them to rest in the park and stay there evenings. If we see people wandering around in parks we check on them and if they don’t have a campsite we ask them to move on,” he said.
DeYoung asked why the Reinhart Volunteer Park doesn’t allow camping while other city parks are full of homeless camps.
“To me that’s pickin’ and choosin,” said DeYoung.
Cubic told him that was negotiated during the court process for a number of reasons, including that it’s a place where children play organized sports.
Baertschiger said he hears from a lot of people complaining about why the city lets homeless people camp in the parks. Cubic said to refer those people to his office. Bristol and Cubic said they also get a lot of complaints.
“I will be happy to sit and talk about understanding what the rules are we operate under,” Cubic said.
DeYoung, thinking Bristol had asked the county to help them find an urban campground, launched into a long-winded explanation that the county can’t provide sewer hookups and water like the city can. Bristol said portable toilets and showers can provide that. DeYoung then asked why the city doesn’t just designate a ravine out on Dollar Mountain for the homeless. Bristol explained that people do live out in that area and the homeless need to be close to services if they are going to get their lives back together.
“This is not a situation where you can put the homeless out in the woods somewhere out of sight, out of mind,” she said.
In other concerns, the Council wanted to know what Commissioners are doing with the $538,000 in vaccine promotion money they finally accepted and wanted to know if they would get a share.
DeYoung talked about the county’s “robust” ad campaign but couldn’t say how much they were spending or even if they had the money budgeted, so he rambled on about mailers and radio ads and hinted they might “do some stuff” with the Courier. Bristol asked what age demographic they are trying to reach, since KAJO and KLDR have an older audience.
DeLaGrange said while he was glad the county was finally doing something with the money provided, “I’m just wondering if you have an estimate of how much of those funds these things will use…is it 30 percent? 70 percent? 100 percent? And does Mike Weber (county Health Department Director) have any ideas that might be utilized?”
DeYoung didn’t know how much they are spending and mumbled about the ad people getting numbers together.…. “but with $538,000 available I don’t think we’ll have any trouble staying within that realm.”
“That’s an awful lot of money. One of the reasons we turned it down in the first place, that we got beat up for, but we still had money left over from the CARES Act at the beginning of the rollout which we hadn’t used and, ahh, there’s only so much you can do with it. So, I tell ya, if you have some ideas maybe try to put them in writing and send ‘em over to the board’s office and we’ll see if it fits with what we’re allowed,” he told the council representatives.
When DeYoung indicated they would be leaning on mailers to get out information about where to get COVID tests and vaccines. He said they were going to send everyone in the county at least four.
“Would that be four mailers going to the same household?” asked DeLaGrange.
DeYoung emphasized they would be going out at different times with different information. Then he went on about how impressed he was with State Rep. Lily Morgan’s mailer and even though he knows her he was compelled to read it so he’s sure the county can make up mailers that everyone will read.
Baertschiger said spending money is such a struggle…..”We come up with these ideas then we gotta check with Mom (County Finance Director Sandy Novak) first to make sure we can do it and that takes time and so the next thing you know two or three days go by…it’s really frustrating with all the strings attached. I wanted to use it to provide transportation for people from their house to the health department to get a vaccine or maybe we could go to them or something like that. Nope. Can’t use it for that so it’s pretty frustrating.”
Fowler said he’s surprised “we haven’t seen an application from you guys to do anything with it. It’s been a month and so we’re going ‘OK, we got the money for ya, why is there not a single request to spend it on anything? Now we’re just sittin’ on it waitin’ on you!”
“We’ve been asking for information and Commissioner Fowler did respond very briefly to let us know that the funds had been received, but I guess this is our first opportunity where we really heard that you’re waiting for us to provide a request and we’d still like to know exactly how much funds are available and exactly what you’re doing, but we do have a better idea now,” said Bristol.
DeYoung starts talking then Fowler jumps in and they are talking over each other with Fowler squirming in front of his camera but neither could tell Bristol just how much money may be left over from their ad campaigns for the city to spend. Bristol tries to reply but DeYoung talks over everybody, revealing that he’d been talking on his phone to Novak while driving…then he looks in his screen and says “yes I was on my way here so Shaun can pick that up.”
DeLaGrange said the Council has talked about how to use vaccine promotion money and suggested the Mayor, Cubic and the Council President sit down and put their ideas in an application and get it over the board “in short order.”
DeYoung asked them to send it to the board and they will send it over to Novak because “like Herman says, you gotta go ask Mom to make sure it clears.”
The city representatives also asked about swift water rescue resources and wondered if the city should keep a boat near the Rogue River somewhere. Fowler called Emergency Services and was told the sheriff does have a boat he keeps “in the jail area” but there is only one marine officer and water rescues are done mostly by volunteers “like a volunteer fire department,” he said.
Baertschiger added most “rescues” are really recoveries and that it takes a long time to organize a rescue no matter where the boat is.
Bristol said she would like to know what the county’s water rescue resources are and if they could supplement those resources for greater safety. Baertschiger interrupted with the suggestion they put a meeting together with Search and Rescue and the marine deputy to find out.
The Council also wanted to know how the county is spending American Rescue Plan Act funds so they won’t duplicate efforts with theirs. She said the City received $9.4 million and is putting $3 million toward their water treatment plant to offset a water bill increase.
DeYoung tried to say that promise might not last because he thinks inflation will cause the city to raise rates anyway.
Cubic said the rate raise, which would have ultimately been about $8 per household, won’t be needed with the ARPA money because the current rate will now be sufficient to pay the bond debt on the plant. Fowler said he hoped if an infrastructure bill is passed in Congress he hopes the city will backfill the sewer plant expansion with that and help the county with other projects, such as expanding broadband.
During the end of their discussion DeYoung asked why the Allen Creek Road project is taking so long. Cubic explained there are many right-of-way issues to resolve and that takes time. Then DeLaGrange asked if he could meet with the county forester to talk about carbon offsets. This set DeYoung off on a wordy lecture about how carbon is necessary for trees and how we’ll all be dependent on Arab oil again because this administration cut off a pipeline from Canada.
DeLaGrange said he just wanted to talk about using carbon offsets as a potential income stream for the county. DeYoung perked up at that and suddenly became interested in carbon offsets.
Fowler, springing awake to the discussion, added his two cents….” I don’t know why the Council President isn’t here. You (speaking to Bristol) just bring in one perspective in this character. Could you bring another city councilor and maybe expose them instead of bringing the same one? That would really help out.”
Bristol smiled and calmly said the Council President had a sick child and couldn’t attend.
During the Wednesday September 29 Business Meeting Commissioners headed off a lot of criticism by tabling their controversial “In the Matter of Valuing Liberty” resolution during their Legal Update session Tuesday. The resolution, consists of a list of quotations, and text calling vaccine and mask mandates “the direct enemy of liberty” and saying as contemporary American patriots they “will fight using words to protect liberty.” Even though it was off the table for now, some people attending the Wednesday meeting wanted to know who wrote it.
As soon as this proposed resolution was made public, the commissioners received dozens of calls and emails telling them it was the silliest resolution many had ever heard of so they dumped it from Wednesday’s agenda. Commissioners told people they would bring the resolution up later so anyone with comments about it can save them till next week.
Meanwhile, they held a public hearing starting the process to amend the county code ordinance to allow code enforcement to cite unpermitted structures and levy daily fines until mitigated. This is in response to countless complaints about junky illegal marijuana grows with squalid living conditions for workers. Assistant County Counsel Augustus Ogu gave a slide show of the junkpiles neighbors are dealing with and presented the proposed changes as laws the government has to abide by. Litigation is to be a last resort with voluntary cleanup compliance the ultimate goal, he said. The ordinance gives code enforcers from the planning department the ability to respond to complaints, cite people for being out of compliance with county building codes and fine them up to $500 a day until they clean up their property. Code enforcers will respond to complaints only and all unpermitted structures installed before Jan. 1, 2016 will be grandfathered in. Property owners will be notified in person with a hand delivered letter. Code enforcers will also be confined to observing violations from the outside and will not go inside any dwelling on the property in question. Violations include erecting structures without a permit, erecting or maintaining multiple structures as dwellings, such as sheds and garages, for people to live in, changing the character of the land without a development permit and diverting streams, creeks, rivers or any other waterway without permission. All money collected from fines will go into the general fund because the county does not want to budget against this money, Ogu said, because the first priority will be voluntary compliance.
Comments on the proposal were mostly positive including those from a group called Friends of Country Living in Sunny Valley who have seen the devastation from illegal grows first hand in their neighborhoods. Many will be stranded for 12 days while the county repairs a bridge leading to their homes damaged by heavy trucks delivering water to illegal grows in the area. Fear for personal safety was also mentioned as stories about pit bulls chasing people getting their mail and water trucks intimidating drivers surfaced. Commissioners generally praised themselves for coming up with an ordinance they called “fair to everyone” while Mark Seligman, who said he supported the ordinance, also accused the commission of causing the problem through lax code enforcement and limiting legal grows on residential property.
The second reading of the ordinance will take place in two weeks and can be amended if the commission decides they missed something.
After the public hearing public comments were taken. The Hinkles from O’Brian were first up with a new conspiracy theory. They warned Commissioners smart toilets will be monitoring poop to see who in the household might have COVID. Others were determined to talk about the resolution even though it had been tabled. Six people urged Commissioners to scrap their ridiculous Liberty resolution, some saying they are not representing all their constituents with the sentiments expressed in it. Libby Watts reminded Commissioners their constituents include a sizeable population of elderly people who bear the brunt of their stand against vaccine and mask mandates. These are vulnerable people who die of COVID in greater numbers, who try to avoid death by being shut in, unable to see their grandchildren, who have to eat sad and alone in care homes and people who have had to put off urgent medical treatment because hospitals were crowded with unvaccinated COVID patients. Then Holly Morton called in saying she supported the Liberty resolution, hopes commissioners pass it and thanked them for all their work.
Commissioners responded to the comments by asking people to have patience with the long process of changing county codes they believe will send a message to anyone coming back next spring intending to grow marijuana illegally that it will “be a different ball game.” After the ordinance is approved it won’t take effect for 90 days.
Then DeYoung droned on about learning in third grade that fossil fuels were good for plants and how God put carbon on earth but its shifting around now and how liberty means different things to different people. Baertschiger urged people to understand each other even if they don’t agree and Fowler reminded everyone that he doesn’t represent all his constituents, only the majority in Josephine County, which he believes is against vaccine mandates. Addressing a commentator who asked Commissioners to represent all their constituents….
“Tommi Drake, who I respect for past volunteerism, says we have to represent all of Josephine County and I don’t understand that. Today I represent the majority on this vaccination mandate but tomorrow I’m supposed to represent the minority? And then I’d be accused of talking out of both sides of my mouth so, I will represent the majority of Josephine County residents and not, ahhh, just a special interest like you are describing,” said Fowler.
Fowler went on to chide Malcolm Drake for reminding people that vaccines against deadly diseases have always been mandated in the past (1.50.10 Sept 27 Business Meeting).
“Of course, all those were real vaccines,” Fowler said. It’s his contention that real vaccines are those using dead viruses to prevent illness rather than the mRNA which uses a harmless piece of spike protein to build immunity. Understanding mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines | CDC
Fowler said he’s against all mandates and gets tired of arguing about “whether the vaccine is effective or not, legal or not, tested or not safe or not, I don’t care! You still cannot mandate anything in America like this. You cannot do it. You have no right to ask me a medical question Mr. Government, and I don’t have to answer so get that through your thick heads that you cannot mandate things in America. That’s not the way it works. You can try and pass laws with court challenges but they’re doing none of that. It’s simply a mandate of government and we won’t stand for it.”
Fowler also took issue with those who said the Liberty resolution used quotes out of context because he thinks quotes become defined over the centuries by maturing in American minds. DeYoung thanked Holli Morton and her friends for sending the board nice compliments about the resolution.
In other matters, Commissioners approved a zoning change from woodlot resource to rural residential that will allow a 5-acre lot subdivision on 87.7 acres in the Merlin area across from Sportsman’s Park after the developers made the case to them the land was neither woodland resource nor farming land. Commissioners also approved a resolution acknowledging the Soroptimists’ 100th anniversary, approved an agreement with the City to allow art features relating to Travis Boersma’s horse racing development (which DeYoung praised while claiming Boersma is an old friend) on city property near the fairgrounds, approved a plot map for the Summerfield subdivision off Redwood Highway, and finalized the purchase of property on the corner of 5th and A streets in Grants Pass (the old gas station) for a new Children’s Advocacy Center run by Juvenile Justice.
Herman Baertschiger on KMED
On Tuesday September 28 Baertschiger was incensed that he called to get an appointment with the CEO of Asante to discuss the firing of “his constituents” because of the vaccine mandate and couldn’t get in to see him until Friday. “Unbelievable,” he said. Then he said he found it interesting that the doctors who came to a Commission meeting a few weeks ago saying their hospital was overflowing are now the same people letting staff go because they won’t get vaccinated. On the “Liberty” resolution, Baertschiger said he wants a resolution that asks the governor to extend the deadline for getting vaccinations to allow people time to make arrangements. He then repeated claims that death rates for Josephine County weren’t much higher than normal during this pandemic, which he doubts is a real pandemic after all.
“It’s not a pandemic by historic definition,” he said.
Baertschiger took a few calls from anti-vaxxers who complained about not getting Ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine when they got COVID and how they had to demand the monoclonal infusions from impassive doctors.
After sympathizing with them, Baertschiger discussed redistricting, saying it was rigged because the Democrats were never going to allow Republicans a say in redrawing the maps. He said Rep. Cliff Bentz will have an easy election but Alek Skarlatos probably won’t have a chance now, running against Rep Peter DeFazio. Baertschiger hinted that Bentz could be primaried because some of his votes, such as acknowledging Biden won the election, aren’t making hardliner Republicans in his district happy.
Then, as something to “throw out there” Baertschiger said Gov. Kate Brown took donations from Pfizer and George Soros, but then admitted he took $1000 from Pfizer when he was running for his state senate seat.