Commissioners talk cannabis, school board

On Wednesday, March 8, the Board of Josephine County Commissioners held a weekly business session at Anne G. Basker Auditorium in Grants Pass. Board Vice Chair John West took control of the dais from an absent Chair Herman Baertschiger. Commissioner Dan DeYoung was also in attendance.
The board heard a presentation by A Greater Applegate community organization, where the group laid out their newly formulated Applegate Valley Vision.
A Greater Applegate co-executive directors Seth Kaplan and Megan Fuhrman led the commissioners through a slideshow that lasted roughly half an hour, spelling out the organization’s mission and feedback they’d gathered from the Applegate community.
The Applegate Valley is not an officially designated place, but A Greater Applegate considers the entire Applegate River watershed a part of the region, including Williams, Wilderville and Murphy.
“A Greater Applegate is the community development organization serving the Applegate Valley exclusively,” explained Kaplan. “Our mission is to build community by sustaining and enhancing local connections that promote the environmental, economic, and social vitality of the Applegate Valley.
“We like to say that A Greater Applegate is the place where community values, community vision, and community voices lead to action.”
Kaplan elaborated that the Applegate Valley Vision was developed in association with the Ford Family Foundation alongside other rural Oregon communities.
“The idea is that a strong community is when we work together to make things better,” Kaplan concluded.
The rest of their presentation encompassed such topics as emergency preparedness, public safety, communication infrastructure, education, tourism and natural resources. Topics were addressed according to where they fit into five focus areas that were identified through community engagement: resilient and connected; vibrant and livable; inclusive and engaged; steward and sustain; and prosperous and vital.

After the presentation, the commissioners had several critiques for the presenters. DeYoung felt Kaplan and Fuhrman should have mentioned forestry and sustainable yield in their presentation more. He also wanted them to bear in mind that much of the Applegate Valley is county-owned, “which belongs to everybody in Josephine County, not just the Applegate Valley.”

DeYoung also advised, “If you want to preserve everything, we need to replace that with something… You know, people want to mine and then when they want to mine, all of a sudden they can’t mine because groups like yours will say, ‘No, we don’t want mining.’”

The commissioner also poured cold water on the notion of the Applegate Valley getting public transportation, saying, “If you ever want public transportation out there, there has to be a need and I think the density would prohibit that to even pencil out.”

DeYoung also requested that JoCo Forestry Director Dave Streeter be invited to A Greater Applegate’s work sessions to coordinate logging opportunities in the region.

Both Commissioner West and DeYoung expressed their appreciation for the information presented by A Greater Applegate. West remarked, “The Applegate Valley is a unique valley. There’s a ton of great people there. And I want to thank you for this presentation.” West also expressed interest in attending one of the group’s monthly board meetings over Zoom or sending a department head to act as a liaison.

During requests and comments from citizens, a number of topics were addressed. Former commissioner candidate Mark Jones talked about the importance of ethics in government. Meeting frequenter Victor Zaitsev discussed the JoCo Animal Shelter contemplating renovations or relocation and the importance of performing fuels reductions activities on tall grasses at the Grants Pass Airport. Judy Ahrens criticized Three Rivers School District and urged citizens to attend their monthly meeting that evening.

Two hot topics of late have been whether the county should declare a state of emergency regarding homelessness to possibly be eligible for state funds to address the issue, and what the county should do with the expensive Flying Lark building that Dutch Bros CEO Travis Boersma recently gifted the county. Several meeting participants brought these topics up, and more than one citizen urged the board to declare the state of emergency so that they can act as a pass through to the city of Grants Pass, which already declared a state of emergency.

JoCo Cannabis Advisory Panel Chair Amanda Metzler chimed in via Zoom to encourage the board to support HB 2089, which would increase the amount of cannabis tax dollars available to cities and counties to combat illegal cannabis activity.

When it came time for the commissioners to respond to citizen comments, they dismissed the notion that the city of Grants Pass will not be able to get state funds to address homelessness if the county does not declare an emergency as well. DeYoung reiterated that most of the issues with transients take place in Grants Pass, saying, “Yes, there are homeless in Josephine County. I’m not arguing that. But the big visual part of it is the city of Grants Pass. And they seem to gravitate to the city of Grants Pass because that’s where all of the resources are that keep their existence palatable.”

DeYoung agreed with Ahrens that there are issues with the way students in public schools are being taught, but reiterated that the TRSD school board is composed of elected officials and the county has no authority to sway their administration.

West responded to Jones’ comments about government ethics by remarking, “I think this board wants to have the utmost character and morals… I want to be held accountable for everything I say, do, and don’t do.”

The vice chair also weighed in on the school board issue: “It’s amazing how many phone calls people ask me to step in and take control of the schools and the school board but it’s not what I was elected to do.”

West also said he plans to heed Metzler’s advice to advocate for HB 2089, because, “If we can create more money from that cannabis money that’s very important.”

On the board’s consent calendar was an agreement with the U.S. Forest Services for the Sheriff’s Office to provide a patrol deputy within the Rogue River – Siskiyou National Forest; the USFS will reimburse the sheriff $97,823.22 for 2023 so that this patrol can be conducted.

An economic development request was approved for $45,000 to cover operation costs at the Illinois Valley Kerby Small Business Development Center offices.

Three Illinois Valley properties and one Grants Pass property were annexed into the Josephine Community Library District by petition of landowner at the meeting. These included a 2.87-acre property on Ivy Dr in Cave Junction, a 2.94-acre property on Tahoe Cr in Grants Pass, a 5.02-acre property on Takilma Rd in the Illinois Valley and a 15.31-acre property on Ken Rose Ln in Cave Junction.

Meeting frequenter Judy Ahrens inquired about what exactly it means for properties to be annexed into the library district, feeling that she was “in the dark a little bit.” This prompted DeYoung to detail the annexation process and why landowners are motivated to voluntarily join the district:

“What these folks are doing here is they are entering their property into the library district because it’s outside of the geographical boundaries of it… They want to support the library with their tax money.”

DeYoung continued, “It’s hard to believe but there are people that do want to pay taxes and support certain things.”