Virginia Graziani

Redwood Times

After hearing three hours of public comment from 45 speakers, the Humboldt County board of supervisors agreed unanimously to continue their review of the General Plan Update with a revised schedule and new staff reports intended to help the supervisors better understand what proposed changes to the current (1984) Framework General Plan mean.

Board chair and fourth district supervisor Virginia Bass began the hearing by explaining to the standing-room-only crowd that comments made by supervisors at the previous hearing were "mischaracterized" in the media to suggest that the board was about to scrap the GPU and start the process over.

A change that extreme would have to come before the board as a separate agenda item, and it has not been agendized, Bass said.

Fifth district supervisor Ryan Sundberg, whose comments at the Sept. 10 hearing triggered the misunderstanding, apologized.

"I was angry and upset last week and I didn't articulate clearly," Sundberg said. "I don't want to kill the plan and start over ... My intention was just to ask a question about how to see it more clearly."

Third district supervisor Mark Lovelace, who had sharply criticized Sundberg's Sept. 10 statements, apologized in turn to Sundberg and thanked him for his clarification. "Last week was not the high point of the year," Lovelace said.

At the end of the hearing held last Monday, Sept. 17, the supervisors unanimously agreed to resume review of the GPU on Monday, Oct. 1.

In the meantime, county planning staff will prepare the first of their new reports on Chapter 5, the Community Services and Infrastructure Element, and Chapter 6, the Telecommunications Element.

First reports will include a description of the legal basis for the element, the key issues, a comparison of how the issues were addressed in the existing Framework Plan and how they are addressed in the current GPU draft, which was approved by the county planning commission in May 2012.

The report will also include reasons for the changes - such as state requirements, public comment, and planning commission recommendations, as well listing the board's options.

After the supervisors cast their straw votes, staff will compile a second report that will include a "strikethrough" version of the draft element showing how the straw votes changed the wording.

The second report will also provide the corresponding section of the Framework Plan, a description of the differences, and a chart that shows how these changes, if adopted, will affect landowners, and the estimated cost of implementing the changes.

The supervisors agreed to postpone further deliberations on Chapter 4, the Land Use Element, which began in July. This element, which defines land use designations that in turn determine zoning on individual parcels, contains the most difficult issues, particularly regarding residential uses on agriculture and timber lands.

Although the board completed its straw vote on the first three sections of the Land Use Element in August, they want to see how the new reports work on less controversial parts of the plan before continuing review of the Land Use Element.

When straw votes are complete on all elements, the supervisors will consider information from the second reports and make final revisions to each element, culminating in approval of the entire General Plan Update as revised by the board.

Approximately a dozen Southern Humboldt residents attended the hearings and about half of them addressed the board during the public comment period.

Bob Froehlich, who describes himself as "living rurally outside Garberville," urged the supervisors to continue work on the GPU, saying it is "untrue and grossly irresponsible" to suggest that the process could be pared down to simple adjustments to the Framework Plan.

That idea, which has been consistently put forward by the Humboldt Economic and Land Planning (HELP) group, some members of the Humboldt Association of Realtors®, and the Northern California Association of Homebuilders, as well as various individuals, did not seem to receive support from even those SoHum residents most critical of the draft GPU. 

Tom Grover agreed with Sundberg that the GPU is confusing and criticized both the lack of definition of terms in the document and the conversion of some resource-designated lands to rural residential designations, but he noted that a rewrite of the existing plan is needed.

Second district supervisor-elect Estelle Fennell thanked Sundberg and 1st district supervisor Rex Bohn for calling for better process, but she observed that "The truth is in the middle.... The truth is in there, and with better process we'll find it in there."

Bonnie Blackberry of the Civil Rights Monitoring Group also criticized the process for failing to follow procedures for public participation established in Section 1500 of the Framework Plan.

Notification of land use designation changes didn't give landowners adequate response time, and many planning commission meetings were so overscheduled that the board never got to some of the agendized items, frustrating people who had driven long distances to participate, Blackberry said.

Sept. 17 was the 225th anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution in 1787. About a dozen members of the local Tea Party wearing red Tea Party Patriot shirts marked the occasion by observing the hearing from the front rows of the supervisors' chambers, and several of them spoke in favor of limiting government interference in property ownership.

One speaker quoted John Adams, referred to "colonial law" and the 7th Amendment to the Constitution, and declared that since private property rights are "inviolable" and "inalienable" in the documents written by the founding fathers, the GPU should allow restrictions only to prevent harm to the property rights of other persons.

But later in the comment period, a speaker pointed out that at the time the Constitution was written African-Americans, women, and children were considered property. "Property has changed," she said.

Environmental advocates urged the supervisors to proceed with the draft GPU rather than go back to the Framework Plan.

Scott Greacen, executive director of Friends of the Eel River, said current property owners as well as wildlife and future generations need the complete GPU, not just a "tweaking" of the Framework Plan, so that they can have a clear picture of what they can and cannot do.

If there are no guidelines, resource advocates will have no choice but to challenge property owners "project by project," Greacen said.

At the same time he admitted that there is a lot in the GPU he doesn't like but he's willing to go ahead with the existing document rather than face the chaos that would follow abandonment of the process.

Hezekiah Allen concurred, stating, "The Framework Plan has been the guiding document for nearly 30 years marked by unplanned, unregulated, and unpermitted development in rural communities. The greatest achievement of the Framework Plan was to solidify the irrelevance of the planning and building department to the everyday lives of rural residents...

"I am frustrated that the time, energy, and resources that have been invested into this plan over the last 12 years, investments made by thousands of individuals, hundreds of organizations, and the public - as represented by the county - now seem threatened by the search for a simple answer," Allen continued.

"We need a collaborative relationship built on trust... This General Plan Update process is simply the starting point to realizing our future; the work is yet to come," he concluded.

Jeff Smith, former chairman of the planning commission, assured the supervisors, "No matter what direction you go, the work done in the past is not in vain...

"None of you were on the board when the ship set sail, and I don't know if anyone could foresee what the GPU is today. No matter whether you've been on the board 15 years or 15 minutes, it's going to be your plan."

Jennifer Kalt, one of the last speakers, told the board, "If you don't [complete the GPU], you'll be remembered as the board that kept us in 1984."

The supervisors, however, seemed to agree informally to continue with the GPU. When every member of the public who wanted to speak had spoken, the supervisors' discussion centered on scheduling, particularly whether to continue working on the Land Use Element or to proceed with some of the less difficult elements.

Additionally, they noted that many speakers had referred to the late notification of property owners whose land use designations might change and asked staff what could be done to improve notification.

Interim planning director Martha Spencer admitted the first round of notifications was flawed and said the planning department now has tools to customize notices for each landowner as well as getting them out earlier.

Second district supervisor Clif Clendenen asked that the Oct. 1 agenda include some time for supervisors and staff to respond to some of the comments, especially to answer speakers' questions or to clear up misunderstandings.

Clendenen also thanked Sundberg for initiating changes to the process and then moved to adopt the new reports and postpone discussion of the Land Use Element. After some clarifications the motion was adopted unanimously.

The next GPU hearing is scheduled for Monday, Oct. 1, beginning at 1:30 p.m. in the supervisors' chambers at the county courthouse in Eureka. The agenda will include setting a revised hearing schedule and review of Chapters 5 and 6, the Infrastructure and Community Services Element and the Telecommunications Element. Oral public comment on these elements will be taken at the hearing.

To make written comments, which may be of any length, write to Kathy Hayes, Clerk of the Board, 825 Fifth St, Eureka 95501 or email her at khayes@co.humboldt.ca.us. Only one copy of written comments is required.

For more information, go to the GPU website, www.planupdate.org, or call the planning department at 445-7541.