MENDOCINO Co., 3/20/22 — Fort Bragg Mayor Bernie Norvell is the only sitting member of the City Council whose seat is secure this November, when the four other council members go up for re-election in the midterms. Ukiah, Willits and Point Arena all have city council elections on that ballot — but none of those races offer the possibility of changing out 80% of a city’s elected officials in one night.
This is an at-large election, meaning that the top four vote-getters win a seat. It will likely never be easier to get elected than this year, especially if there are only four or five candidates in the race. But elections like this can get weird, as it becomes possible for a candidate to win with very little voter support. There would normally be just two or three seats in play, but Councilwoman Marcia Rafanan was appointed (rather than elected) to a two-year term in 2020. The other council members finishing four-year terms and up for re-election are Jessica Morsell-Haye, Lindy Peters and Tess Albin-Smith. It won’t be clear which ones are seeking re-election until the filing deadline closes August 12.
Voters can expect trains to be an electoral issue as candidates emerge and identify their platforms, given the Mendocino Railway’s controversial acquisition of the 272-acre Georgia Pacific Millsite as well as its recent efforts to position itself as a freight hauling public utility rather than a passenger line. Proposals for a “coal train,” which would transport North American coal to the coast by rail where it could be shipped by sea to export markets, have encountered stiff opposition in Oakland and Humboldt Bay. If the interests behind those proposals plan to bank on Fort Bragg, we will likely see it in this year’s campaign finance disclosure forms. Either way, the Fort Bragg City Council will be asked to balance the type and scope of railroad operations occurring within city limits against the economic opportunities and environmental impacts of industry.
Down the coast, Point Arena has an upcoming election that should be interesting for entirely different reasons. The charming seaside village has roughly 450 residents, and five seats on the city council. With just over 1% of the town’s population serving in elected office, Point Arena has one of the highest rates of civic participation in Northern California. But that’s when the council is fully staffed, and that can be a challenge. Two council members resigned last year. One vacancy was filled by appointment, and though a candidate qualified for a special election to fill the other seat, he ran unopposed.
Barbara Burkey, Anna Dobbins and Richey Wasserman are all up for re-election this year — but this race may not be competitive. Regardless, Mendocino County’s smallest incorporated city is dealing with some of the same regional issues hounding major metropolitan areas like Oakland and Santa Rosa, despite the town’s remote location and small population. The Point Arena City Council passed a camping ordinance in 2021, and while that sounds like a routine municipal affair for a tourist destination, the legislation dealt largely with the impacts of housing scarcity and homelessness by restricting the placement of encampments on public property.
In Willits Vice-Mayor Greta Kanne’s term expires this year, as does that of Councilman Larry Stranske. In Ukiah, Juan Orozco and Mary Rodin are subject to challenge. TMV will give local elections in Mendocino County’s two biggest cities the attention they deserve as campaign season progresses.
Public schools are the most common way in which government plays a role in our daily lives, but public school boards are often overlooked during election season—especially in a large, rugged county like ours where geographically remote community schools often have their own district. Since the start of the pandemic, school board meetings have been a major battleground for anti-vaccine and anti-mask activists. There are also bitter controversies over “critical race theory” in schools, although that curriculum is rarely if ever taught at the K-12 level.
There are 12 separate school districts in Mendocino County, although most of the student population is concentrated in Ukiah, Willits or Fort Bragg. All have elections on the ballot, as does the Mendocino County Board of Education and the Mendocino-Lake Community College District Board of Trustees.
There are also a number of fire districts, water districts and other special district elections coming in November. TMV obtained a draft list of these districts from the Elections Division of the Mendocino County Assessor-Clerk-Recorder, which is itemized below:
- Community Service Districts:
- Anderson Valley Community Services District
- Brooktrails Township Community Service Agency
- Comptche Community Service District
- Elk Community Service District
- Gualala Community Service District
- Mendocino Community Service District
- Potter Valley Community Service District
- Fire Districts
- Albion\Little River Fire Protection District
- Covelo Fire Protection District
- Fort Bragg Rural Fire Protection District
- Hopland Fire Protection District
- Leggett Valley Fire Protection District
- Little Lake Fire Protection District
- Long Valley Fire Protection District
- Mendocino Fire Protection District
- Piercy Fire Protection District
- Redwood Coast Fire Protection District
- Redwood Valley\Calpella Fire Protection District
- South Coast Fire Protection District
- Ukiah Valley Fire Protection District
- Water Districts
- Calpella County Water District
- Elk County Water District
- Millview County Water District
- Redwood Valley County Water District
- Round Valley County Water District
- Willow County Water District
- Westport County Water District
- Other Districts
- Coast Life Support District
- Hopland Public Utilities District
- Mendocino Coast Healthcare District
- Mendocino Coast Recreation and Park District
- Mendocino County Russian River Flood Control
- Potter Valley Irrigation District
- Ukiah Valley Sanitation District
One last thing to consider if you’ve read this far: you may be qualified to run for some of the elected offices listed above. The filing window runs from July 8 to August 12. For information about qualifications for office, contact elections officials at [email protected] or (707) 234-6819. You can also find them online.