The Humboldt County board of supervisors worked through about half the items listed for discussion during their review of the Circulation Element of the General Plan Update at their hearing last Monday, Jan. 14.
The Circulation Element addresses the many facets of transportation in the unincorporated areas of the county including roads, railroads, marine facilities, and airports. Provisions of this element also look at providing options for pedestrians, bicyclists, and handicapped persons, and public transit.
Following extensive discussion and revisions the supervisors took straw votes, agreeing unanimously on almost all of the items they reviewed. Two items passed by a 4-1 vote, and one was returned to staff for a rewrite.
The ad hoc working group made up of individuals and representatives of organizations with diverse viewpoints about the GPU presented the board with the last of their comments on the Circulation Element, completing their review of the goals and policies sections.
At Monday's hearing all the supervisors praised the ad hoc working group's contributions. In turn, Dan Ehresman of Healthy Humboldt declared he was "truly impressed" that the participants were able to resolve many of their differences and reach consensus on all but four provisions in the goals and policies sections of the Circulation Element.
The group decided not to delve into the standards and implementation measures sections until the supervisors give their final approval to the first two sections, since standards and implementation measures are likely to change based on changes to goals and policies.
One critical goal proposed by the ad hoc group, which would also influence standards and implementation measures, is the creation of a Countywide Transportation Plan (CWTP). This plan would be developed hand-in-hand with land use planning and would reflect the character and needs of various communities.
Emily Sinkhorn of the Complete Streets Working Group, one of the group's participants, said that transportation-planning grants are available, and that she would bring some options to the next hearing.
The board approved approximately three-dozen goals and policies as a slate, since staff had agreed with the working group's comments, except for a handful of items that individual supervisors asked to be pulled for further discussion.
Once the slate was approved, the board moved on to more difficult items.
Railroad issues caused the most discussion, particularly provisions supporting a potential rail line from Eureka to Redding across the Trinity Mountains, referred to as the East-West rail system. Questions regarding railroad right-of-way and the potential conversion to or addition of hike/bike trails also generated disagreement among the supervisors.
Marine transport was a related topic, since the board believes that re-establishing Humboldt Bay as a deepwater port is necessary to the economic feasibility of an East-West rail and vice versa, enabling shipment of goods to and from national transportation routes in California's Central Valley to ocean-going vessels.
During discussion of a policy about marine transport options, newly seated 2nd district supervisor Estelle Fennell made a strong statement in support of linking the East-West rail system to the national rail system and a port suitable for international import-export traffic.
The original wording of this policy, titled "Movement of Goods," read, "Encourage marine transport options, such as coastal barge service."
Other supervisors also wanted to include options other than coastal barge service. Third district supervisor Mark Lovelace pointed out that tying the policy to the East-West rail system "ties us to something non-existent" and furthermore, that listing options in a policy leads to arguments about why something is or is not on the list.
County administrative officer Philip Smith-Hanes suggested the wording that the supervisors ultimately adopted unanimously: "Encourage marine transport options and associated facilities."
A policy to develop railroad rights-of-way for bicycles and pedestrians also sparked a long discussion because of concern that this might violate the property rights of landowners who granted conservation easements to the railroad.
Fourth district supervisor Virginia Bass noted that deleting this policy would mean that rail service could never be re-established because of the loss of parts of the right-of-way.
Bohn felt that the policy would be more acceptable to landowners if it specified that the right-of-way would be used "primarily to support the rail." He predicted that without this clause, some landowners would terminate their easements. Fennell suggested adding to Bohn's phrase, "...useful to connecting to the national rail service."
Third district supervisor Mark Lovelace explained that such wording would preclude the use of the right-of-way for regional rail service; for example, an excursion train between Arcata and Samoa or between Eureka and Island Mountain.
He suggested adding wording to preserve rights of way "as a contiguous public use transportation corridor for railroad and other transportation uses."
The board agreed unanimously with this revision.
The ad hoc working group offered the board two options on a policy for re-establishing regional rail service. The first option was to adopt the original single sentence stating that the county should "support and encourage" countywide and regional rail service. The second option called for public investment to be based on feasibility studies, public demand, and a sustainable revenue source.
Bohn preferred the first option because of its simplicity, he said.
He also split from the rest of the board on a policy calling for assessments of how well county roads and intersections serve different kinds of transportation, such as cars, pedestrians, and bicycles.
The discussion revolved around technicalities of how levels and quality of service are analyzed, whether by the type of community - urban, suburban, rural, or remote - or by actual audits of how much each mode of transportation is used and how well a particular road or intersection serves each mode.
After a thorough and somewhat technical discussion, the other supervisors agreed to the audits but Bohn dissented.
During the final half-hour of the meeting, the board discussed its schedule. Currently, GPU hearings have been set for twice a month, roughly every other week.
At the next hearing on Monday, Jan. 28, the supervisors will finish their review of the Circulation Element and hope to complete the mostly non-controversial Economic Development Element.
The ad hoc working group agreed that it would next take up the Infrastructure Element, which looks at public services such as law enforcement, fire protection, water, sewer, storm drainage and flood control, and recreation. This review will probably begin on Feb. 11.
Supervisors first took up the Infrastructure Element last fall. They suspended it when the ad hoc working group came forward in November proposing to consolidate comments from many different interest groups on the Circulation Element.
The process, which involved bringing together approximately 20 people from many parts of the county, was lengthy and laborious. The working group is now looking for ways to streamline their work.
Additionally, membership of the group is likely to change for each element. Some people joined the group specifically to address transportation issues and may not want to continue, whereas others with different expertise may wish to join for review of the Infrastructure Element.
Connie Stewart of the California Center for Rural Policy, who has been facilitating the ad hoc group along with Jen Rice of the Humboldt Area Foundation, emphasized that while the group itself has been looking for help, they are not asking for funding or personnel from the county. "We'll figure it out ourselves," she said.
"Our talents are best used with the controversial elements," Stewart added, responding to suggestions about a schedule of elements to review.
The board of supervisors and the ad hoc group both again expressed their belief in the importance of public process and agreed that the ad hoc group's participation is only part of that process.
Anyone interested in any aspect of the GPU is encouraged to submit written comments or to appear at the appropriate hearing to make oral comment. Written comments can be mailed to Kathy Hayes, Clerk of the Board, 825 Fifth Street, Eureka 95501, or they can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
All the documents relating to the GPU deliberations, including the recommendations of the ad hoc working group, are available the GPU website, www.planupdate.org, or by calling supervising planner Martha Spencer at 268-3704.
The current schedule of hearings is also available on the website. Topics for each hearing may change depending on progress made, so interested persons should check the schedule before planning to attend. The website's home page has a button to click if you wish to be added to the mailing list to receive hearing notices by email.