Supervisors' agenda dominated by COVID-19 topics
The continuing fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting shelter-in-place order took center stage at the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors meeting last week.
The Siskiyou County Public Health Division received approval to release a number of emergency press releases urging citizens to remain indoors and wear masks in public. In three separate press releases, the county instructed owners of second homes coming into the area to self-quarantine for 14 days, told citizens to wear face masks in public, and informed Spanish-speaking migrant workers of new protocols on remaining healthy while working the strawberry fields in the county’s northeast.
“We are trying to educate and inform,” said County Administrative Officer Angela Davis about the order for second home owners to self-isolate if they are choosing to shelter here in Siskiyou County.
While the order is aimed mainly at second home owners, the wording is broad, stating, “Siskiyou County is mandating that anyone choosing to reside in their second home or any other means for vacationing within Siskiyou County shall self-quarantine for 14 days.”
District 5 Supervisor Ray Haupt informed the board that a number of large summer camp programs have already delayed or canceled their plans. Haupt’s district is home to a number of large summer camps that bring in thousands of out-of-state visitors each year. The swift actions of residents and businesses have been successful, he said. “It’s not time to stop, but it is a time for me at least to be thankful and recognize the choices that people have made, because without them we would not be as successful as we are right now.”
PCT hikers and TOT
The Pacific Crest Trail Association has also advised hikers to cancel or postpone their planned activities on the Pacific Crest Trail, which winds through Siskiyou County. Hikers traveling in groups, eating together or camping together can pose a threat to residents in small towns.
When resupplying in towns, they often hitchhike and go to restaurants, hotels and gear stores. The risk of coronavirus spreading from hikers to residents is a concern, said the PCTA, as is the threat to hikers who might catch the virus while resupplying and who then continue on the trail where medical services are not available. The number of hikers on the trail has dropped from 1,000 to about 100, the PCTA said.
The drop in number of out-of-county visitors is not isolated to hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail; south Siskiyou County hotels in Mount Shasta and Weed are virtually empty. The drop in visitors comes just as the Transient Occupancy Tax increase goes into effect. The rate increase, approved by voters and certified during the April 7 board meeting, goes into effect this summer and will increase the tax from 8% to 12% at hotels in the unincorporated areas of the county. During the board meeting, supervisors discussed ways to delay, repeal or return to the ballot with a TOT adjustment.
“They are shutting down,” said District 2 Supervisor Ed Valenzuela, referring to hotels in the Mt. Shasta area. A delay in the TOT might not mean saving a business, he conceded, but it would be “buying us some goodwill. No matter what happens, tourism is not coming back this year.”
The board was unable to find a legal way to delay the implementation of the tax, but the option remains to bring the question back to voters in the November election. District 4 Supervisor Lisa Nixon did not agree that a reduction was necessary or helpful.
“We have been there and done that,” she said. “I cannot fathom that people’s travel decisions are being dictated now by the TOT. Everybody is going to be down and suffering regardless. I can’t see that the dollar value from a delay in a 4% TOT (increase) would be the deciding factor between a bankruptcy of a hotel and not.”
Supervisors requested more information on the actual monetary impact of the 4% tax increase to the average rates of county hotels from the Siskiyou Economic Development Council. The SEDC has been working with area businesses to apply for incoming federal and state aid in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Likewise, the county tax collector has been working with businesses that need to delay paying property taxes. The discussion on the future of the TOT will continue next session.
In other matters, the board declared a local state of emergency related to drought in Siskiyou County. Northern parts of the county have been in “Severe Drought” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Precipitation is well below normal and snowpack in the Upper Klamath Basin is nearly 30 percent below average.
The board recessed before returning for an afternoon reading of a proposed hemp ordinance to allow hemp cultivation in Siskiyou County. Upon review of the proposal, the board decided to return the proposal to the planning department for further adjustments. Included in the recommendations is the creation of an overlay district for Scott Valley.
Due to temperature inversions and unique topographic features that could trap unwanted odors, an overlay district in the Scott Valley will increase the minimum parcel size from 40 to 80 acres.
The ordinance will return for a first reading on May 5, and if approved will go into effect on June 19. This new timeline will narrow the window for potential farmers to get a crop in the ground this year. Hemp’s growing cycle is generally 90-120 days. Harvest occurs mid-September through October. October 1 is 103 days from June 19.
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