What's your vision for Humboldt County in the year 2050? Would you prefer to see growth spread out in rural areas, concentrated in urban areas, or centering around revitalized small towns? How will different patterns of growth affect quality of life and how will quality of life issues influence growth patterns?
Southern Humboldt residents, as well as people from all over the county, have a chance to discuss these ideas and help formulate a document that will guide future growth planning through the Imagine Humboldt! project.
Live workshops and an online discussion tool called Crowdbrite are giving everyone a chance to weigh in with their ideas and to join an ongoing conversation about Humboldt's future, project manager Kathy Moxon explained to workshop participants at the Vets Hall in Garberville last Wednesday evening, Sept. 19.
Fifteen people attended the workshop, the third held in SoHum since the project began in 2010. In addition to Moxon, HCAOG executive director Marcella Clem and executive assistant Siana Watts were on hand to help out. HCAOG provided pizza, salad, and cookies to calm growling stomachs at the early evening event.
Imagine Humboldt! is sponsored by the Humboldt Association of Governments (HCAOG) and is funded by the California Department of Transportation as part of the Caltrans Blueprint Planning Program.
Many SoHum participants in this workshop, as at the previous workshops, were suspicious of Caltrans involvement, citing several controversial Caltrans proposals for changes to Highways 101, 299, 36, and the Avenue of the Giants.
Moxon explained the necessity of bringing roads up to federal safety standards, particularly at "pinch points" like Richardson Grove and parts of Highway 299. She also noted that participating in the Blueprint Planning Program helps the county receive state funding for local road improvements.
Transportation choices are a byproduct of where you live, work, shop, and recreate, Moxon said, so planning for growth and planning for transportation go hand-in-hand. Furthermore, the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and therefore vehicle miles traveled influences how growth can be accommodated.
As budgets are squeezed tighter and tighter, road maintenance is declining, Moxon added. "Rural communities will be losers if [transportation issues] are not addressed," she said.
For example, Sonoma County is considering letting its rural roads go back to gravel rather than continuing to maintain the pavement.
Participants pointed out that although more rural residents are now working at home and therefore don't need to commute to jobs, historic small town hubs like Whitethorn and Blocksburg have lost their shops and services so people still have to drive long distances whether or not they work at home.
HCAOG asked experts at Humboldt State University to project the county's population in 2050, and they came up with an increase of 24,500 persons, for a total of more than 157,000 residents by 2050.
Participants questioned this figure. Some felt that climate change would cause an explosive increase in population as other parts of the state became hotter and drier, while others predicted that hard times would drive people out of Humboldt County, noting that current state Department of Finance projections indicate a decrease in population in the next five years.
Economic factors are key to planning for growth. "Think of the economy as a bucket of water with money as the water," Moxon suggested. The bucket is filled by new outside money coming in, leaks must be plugged to keep money local, and money must be "swirled around," passing from person to person through purchases of local goods and services.
The county's economic development staff have developed two programs, Prosperty! and Targets of Opportunity, to address these needs, focusing on sectors of the economy that bring in outside money and create new living wage jobs.
Workshop participants pointed out that neither of these strategies include the role marijuana plays in Humboldt's economy. Several people estimated that pot might represent as much as half the cash raised in the county.
But because of its uncertain legal status, the marijuana industry's contribution can't be quantified, Moxon said. Furthermore, opinion about it is "bifurcated" - people hate it or love it as an economic factor, which makes it hard to discuss. "More and more people are thinking about it, but they have trouble figuring out how to talk about it," she said.
In addition to collecting comments from the first two series of workshops, Imagine Humboldt! also distributed a survey and received responses from approximately 700 people throughout the county.
From this information the project team developed 10 "principles" that reflect what Humboldt residents value about their county and would like to see prioritized in planning for growth.
Improving the quality of life was the number one principle, followed by creating quality jobs, and going on to include a range of items such as developing more transportation choices, building quality neighborhoods, and preserving the area's rural character.
The Imagine Humboldt! team came up with four scenarios for accommodating the next 35 years of growth, and produced maps and diagrams to illustrate the interaction between each scenario and some key quality-of-life components.
The scenarios included one that maximized conservation of resource lands and focusing new growth in urban areas, one that emphasized rural living by putting most new growth on 40-acre parcels, one that emphasized community living by clustering new growth on small parcels, and one that called for revitalizing historic towns, which focused on bringing services and businesses back to hub communities to encourage growth around the towns.
A series of diagrams showed how all four scenarios might interface with quality of life issues such as the distance from schools and emergency services, the impact to resource lands, commute patterns to reach jobs, and so on.
These diagrams can help people evaluate the pluses and minuses of each scenario.
After a break during which workshop participants looked at and talked informally about the maps and diagrams and made comments on sticky notes that would later be compiled by the Imagine Humboldt! team, Moxon spent some time explaining how to use Crowdbrite, which will enable the discussion to continue online and bring in other participants.
Crowdbrite enables users to zero in on specific geographical areas, make comments on virtual "sticky notes," and comment on others' ideas.
Crowdbrite discussions are not anonymous although users may make up "handles;" however, Moxon said many people like the use of real names because it fosters constructive discussion.
The goal of all this process is to develop information based on actual public participation that can be used as a resource by other agencies. It is not targeted at any specific project.
All types of ideas and comments on any part of Imagine Humboldt! are welcome, including comments questioning the growth projection, principles, scenarios, and quality of life criteria.
For more information about Imagine Humboldt! visit their webiste at www.imaginehumboldt.org or call HCAOG at 444-8208.
To access Crowdbrite, go to the Imagine Humboldt! website and click on the words "Share your ideas" on the lower part of the home page. When the "Share your ideas" page comes up, click on the name of the area you are interested in, such as "Garberville-Redway," in the middle of the page.
When the Crowdbrite tutorial appears you can either watch it by clicking on the arrow or close it by clicking on the "x" at top right. When the tutorial screen closes, a close-up of the map of your chosen area appears.
To use the map you need to click on "log in" and follow the instructions to set up your account.
If you need help with Crowdbrite, you can call HCAOG and ask for Marcella Clem or Siana Watts, or you can call Moxon at 498-9502.
People who don't have high-speed internet can make comments by writing to: Imagine Humboldt! HCOAG, 611 I Street, Suite B, Eureka, CA 95501.
REDWOOD TIMES PHOTOS BY VIRGINIA GRAZIANI
1. Southern Humboldt residents who participated in the Imagine Humboldt! workshop in Garberville last Wednesday talked about their vision for the county in 2050 under the guidance of HCAOG project manager Kathy Moxon (standing at left). Moxon also introduced them to Crowdbrite, an interactive tool that allows people to discuss their ideas online.
2. Kathy Moxon, Imagine Humboldt! project manager, explains how these colorful diagrams contrast different scenarios for growth in the Garberville-Redway area in the next 35 years. The diagram in this picture shows how prime agricultural and timber lands would be affected by different patterns of growth.