On Thursday, Feb. 23, around 6 pm, Highway 101 was closed in both directions from Willits to the Humboldt County line and motorists were stranded in Laytonville. The Laytonville Fire Department requested that my daughter Jayma Shields Spence, who is Director of Laytonville Healthy Start, the north county’s family resource center, open up Harwood Hall which also serves as an emergency shelter. Last year, she agreed to let the County park the shelter trailer on Healthy Start property, from where it was previously kept at the fire department. The trailer is filled with all the basic supplies you would need to operate a shelter: cots, blankets, coffee pots, etc. and it made sense to have it on-site.
Jayma explained to me, “The trailer is also locked and I was told after I asked a member of the County OES (Office of Emergency Services) how we would unlock it, he said ‘We send a staff person to unlock it.’ I thought that was weird, but to bureaucrats who have more rules than I do, I guess that made sense to them.”
Here’s Jayma’s summary of what occurred next:
“By about 9 p.m., three of us had made contact with various members of the county to tell them about our situation and asked for access to the trailer. My dad spoke with the Sheriff, who was very helpful, former-Fire Chief Sue Carberry spoke with a few members of OES, and I spoke with 2 members of OES. We all made a threat that we would use the ‘Master Key’ (bolt cutters) to gain access to the trailer if need be. We were asked, ‘Why did you open up (the shelter)?’ The answer is because there was easily over 100 people stranded in Laytonville, about 20 were currently inside my office, the highway was closed due to a heavy snow storm with freezing temps, and no sign of stopping but that wasn’t considered an emergency by county officials. We were told that ‘we will continue to monitor the situation’ and that the highway was predicted to open up soon. The highway didn’t open up to south-bound traffic until Friday afternoon and it wasn’t until Saturday afternoon that 101 finally opened up to north-bound traffic. By 10 p.m. it was obvious to me that no one was coming to our rescue. That we weren’t being given permission to access the emergency shelter trailer. So, we knew that it was up to us to provide a warm and welcoming place for our new guests.”
My daughter put out the word to the community about the County refusing to assist with what was clearly an emergency, and that supplies were needed. To make a long story short, folks generously brought in supplies and others volunteered their help, and we were able to provide shelter and the basics until the highway reopened two days later.
It should never have been made this difficult for the people who were just trying to do the right thing.
My motto has always been, “Solving emergency, get out of my way, paperwork will follow.”
Various media platforms, including the Bay Area’s KTVU, reported on this bureaucrat-created snafu, and many people weighed in with comments and posts. Here’s some of them:
A big thank you to Jayma Shields Spence and her helpmates for helping stranded travelers in Laytonville during the last storm. I’m sure it was stressful and difficult and you did an amazing job keeping people safe, fed and as warm as possible. I’m sorry to hear of another county failure in a well predicted situation which could have cost lives. Frustration doesn’t begin to cover my feelings about this. Maybe Supervisor Haschak could/should setup a call between OES and the team in Laytonville, so this doesn’t happen again. Another storm is predicted — TONIGHT .—k.h.
Not to worry, Ms. Shields. The BOS will follow its usual procedure of appointing an ad hoc committee to investigate, which committee will never report back to the Board. It’s Robertson’s Rules on burying the issue. Seriously, though. You might as well have taken the bolt cutters to the lock and handed out the emergency goods. After all, it was an emergency. And I personally would reimburse the county for the lock. May I end by congratulating Ms. Shields and her cohorts? Bless them for their compassion. — George Dorner
Wasn’t Barbara Howe fired for accessing the emergency generators during the blackouts? Bolt cutters are burglary tools, aren’t they? Well, that’s not the Humboldt Way, and Laytonville is closer to Humboldt than Mendocino in significant ways…— Bruce McEwen
“Howe told me that Moss-Chandler officially fired her for “committing county resources without authorization,” in this case four generators Howe promised to the county’s regional centers (following an inter-agency assessment Howe says she initiated) in case of emergencies— generators that, incidentally, had already been acquired with state emergency funds and were stored, awaiting placement, in a shed in Howe’s backyard.” — James Marmon
Losers not Leaders should be Mendo’s motto of government. Discouraging is not the word that comes to mind when the bumblers who preside over the County are once again m.i.a. Anger doesn’t even come close to describing what I (and I’m sure many others) think of these people. Luckily private citizens like Ms. Shields are at the ready to do what our elected and appointed officials are supposed to. And next time the hell with official county bureaucracy — cut the damn lock and see if DA Dave has the balls to prosecute you for damage to county property. — Stephen Rosenthal
Great piece by Jayma! My congrats.— Bruce Anderson
Where’s 3rd District Supervisor John Haschak, or is this another Creekside RV Park bridge debacle? I suspect most of the “Amazon Wish List” is within the county’s holdings somewhere. Isn’t there a County Emergency Services Department that can help Laytonville? A few grand would make this go away…Be Well, — Lazarus
On the day in question, I had my cordless cut-off grinder in hand ready to cut the lock off the OES trailer but my daughter asked me not to do it because she didn’t want trouble with the county bureaucrats. So I reluctantly complied with her wishes. I believe she now has a new motto. PS: I also spoke with Haschak after this occurred and he is on-board with the rest of us. —Jim Shields
That’s good to know about Mr. Haschak. I hope they have a plan prepared for this evening so both stranded citizens and well-meaning people trying to help aren’t put in the same stressful situation again. I am surprised no one cut the lock, but your daughter was probably right in her decision. No need for her to get thrown under the bus trying to help people. The county could easily make her out to be the bad guy for their own reasons. — k.h.
(Jim Shields is the Mendocino County Observer’s editor and publisher, firstname.lastname@example.org, the long-time district manager of the Laytonville County Water District, and is also chairman of the Laytonville Area Municipal Advisory Council. Listen to his radio program “This and That” every Saturday at noon on KPFN 105.1 FM, also streamed live: http://www.kpfn.org.)
I am not surprised at our county’s failure to helps its citizens in the emergency…and I’m sure the District attorney David Eyster would have no problem charging someone with distruction of county property..Unless maybe you paid him not to do so..Welcome to Mendocino County.
As I have remarked elsewhere, leaving the key with a trusted local would convert this dead storage into an actual emergency shelter. To me, the most interesting aspect of this whole kerfuffle is that apparently no one knows who actually has the key in question.
I read I thought I understood, that the County emergency shelter Laytonville storage container has a combination lock, with guidelines protocol requirement of two County representatives present to access contents, but you could be right that there is a key somewhere.