Humboldt County supervisors reached another impasse on the General Plan Update last Monday, Oct. 1, as they disagreed on how to evaluate the Infrastructure and Community Services Element, or even whether to keep infrastructure issues in a separate element.
The supervisors did complete their review of the Telecommunications Element, however, making only two changes to the planning commission’s approved draft in response to public requests.
Fewer than 20 members of the public attended the hearing, which was expected to cover less controversial ground than the standing-room-only Sept. 17 hearing. During the public comment period 15 people addressed the board.
The state of California requires counties to address infrastructure issues in their General Plans but not necessarily as a separate element, supervising planner Tom Hofweber told the board.
Because the adequacy of services has been a "big issue" in testimony from service providers and members of the public, policies and other provisions addressing infrastructure were gathered into a separate element in the GPU rather than being folded into other elements, Hofweber explained.
One major concern was that the county’s housing inventory - actually an inventory of land available for future housing - would not be meaningful unless infrastructure and service issues are addressed.
Three key issues are adequacy of services, funding of services, and coordination between the county and providers such as fire protection districts and community services districts.
The current Framework General Plan (completed in 1984) is "very general" and lists policies without any explanations of how they can be met, Hofweber said.
The Framework Plan also does not bring together all the policies, standards, and implementation measures for a subject like infrastructure in separate elements but rather mixes them "functionally" with only a one-page matrix to guide the reader. Rather than being transparent about these issues, the Framework Plan is "rather thick," Hofweber said.
Since some supervisors were concerned about having too many policies or duplicating the regulations of other agencies, Hofweber pointed out that they could always choose the Alternative C version of the draft element. Alternative C contains fewer policies, and is intended to define the least amount of regulation that still meets state requirements for a GPU.
Representatives of both the Humboldt Association of Realtors and the Northern California Homebuilders Association spoke in favor of doing away with a separate infrastructure element.
Bob Higgons, representing the realtors, said that requirements for "high levels of service" would be prohibitively expensive in rural areas and would be used to "direct development where government wants it."
He also objected to requiring impact fees from developers to offset the cost to service providers of accommodating new subdivisions.
Second district supervisor Clif Clendenen expressed the supervisors’ reluctance to impose the fees, saying that the board has been "tiptoeing" around impact fees, but he asked Higgons about other options for funding.
Higgons cited state Proposition 84 funds, Mello-Roos assessment districts, and other assessments and taxes. Development fees should be the last resort, Higgons said, adding, "Somebody has to pay for it."
Although it was ultimately less controversial, the Telecommunications Element generated more public comment than the Infrastructure Element.
In his staff report Hofweber noted that compliance with state law requires the county to address telecommunications issues "reflective of local conditions and circumstances."
The Telecommunications Element is not a state-required element. Humboldt County will be the first county in California to include a separate Telecommunications Element in its General Plan.
Policy disagreements centered on siting and subdivision improvement requirements, Hofweber said.
During public comment, Beverley Fillip said that radiofrequency (RF) emissions have environmental impacts as well as health impacts. People have a right to know what and how much they’re being exposed to; it’s a "property right and civil right," she said.
In addition to adequate setbacks from homes and schools, RF-emitting devices need to be monitored regularly, Fillip said, and she urged the county to encourage fiber optic installations in community centers rather than relying on wireless transmission.
The GPU should consider appropriate zoning for RF-emitting devices and require disclosure to potential residents, said Lisa Brown. "Access [to telecommunications] should not supersede correct placement."
Norman Johansson, who partners with his son Seth in 101netlink, which provides broadband internet to "thousands of customers" in remote areas of Humboldt and Mendocino counties, said, "From a rural point of view, rural people are happy to see the access point because it means a connection is available."
"Our service has one-tenth the wattage of a cell phone," he continued, and cited many other common sources of RF emissions, such as radio. Johansson argued that more regulation of siting means less service.
Third district supervisor Mark Lovelace thanked Johansson for bringing internet service to rural areas, but added, "Do we want to fight this once or fight it every time?" - whether regulation in the GPU is preferable to permit-by-permit consideration of siting.
Both Tom Grover and Bonnie Blackberry urged the board to include the words "remote, live, interactive" to a provision calling for internet access in rural communities.
They want important public meetings, such as these hearings, broadcast to community hubs in remote areas so that local residents can participate as well as hear the meetings in real time.
"It’s an incredible burden" for rural residents to drive all the way to Eureka to attend meetings, Grover said.
Connie Stewart of the California Center for Rural Policy said she was "about to push the ‘Send’ button" on a grant application that would help pay for writing new ordinances to implement the element.
"You have a lot of community partners eager to help you... looking for direction from the board," she said.
Following public comment the supervisors quickly agreed to approve a provision calling for community workshops to discuss siting and monitoring of telecommunications infrastructure.
Stewart said that the grant she is applying for would help with the cost of the workshop. Fifth district supervisor Ryan Sundberg recommended changing the wording of the measure to show that county would "support" rather than "host" the workshops. The rest of the board agreed.
The board also agreed to add the words "remote, live, interactive" to the provision calling for community internet access to meetings.
With those two straw votes, the board turned to the more difficult matter of the Infrastructure Element.
Sundberg and 1st district supervisor Rex Bohn disagreed with keeping infrastructure in a separate element, citing concerns about costs and duplication of state regulations. Sundberg suggested asking staff to provide a chart showing where infrastructure items could be logically "parked" in other elements.
Lovelace said that it was more important to consider the issues contained in the policies and other provisions than to debate whether or not there should be a separate element.
The board needs to recommend the restructuring, Lovelace added, not just ask staff to "try their luck. Unless we can give [staff] clear direction, reducing elements makes more work, not less," he said.
Showing some frustration, Sundberg said, "Everything’s working OK now, so what we need to park is what’s left over."
"This is the first meeting where I’ve ever heard that everything we’re doing is just fine," said Lovelace.
Clendenen pointed out that there was a "big disparity between the handful of items" pulled from the Infrastructure Element for review on the Oct. 1 agenda versus removing the element and "parking" selected items. He urged the board to consider the items before them.
Board chair and 4th district supervisor Virginia Bass suggested that the board go through the current list of items to review and "see what we don’t like."
While other board members seemed to concur, the discussion remained general. Clendenen returned to the issue of developer’s impact fees, stating that while the county should "go for grants first," fees were still part of a "robust" funding policy. "That doesn’t mean we’re going to ream developers," he added.
The supervisors also discussed another sticky issue, the requirements for development outside fire protection district boundaries, without reaching a conclusion.
As the hour grew late, Hofweber suggested that the board re-agendize the entire Infrastructure Element for the next hearing. Staff will add notes to the existing charts to show where various provisions could be parked if the board decides to eliminate the element.
"Looks like we’ll have to have a straw vote on the entire element," Bass observed.
In addition to Chapter 5, the Infrastructure and Community Services Element, the next agenda will include Chapter 7, Circulation, in case the board has time to consider it.
The next GPU hearing is scheduled for Monday, Oct. 15, beginning at 1:30 p.m. in the supervisors’ chambers in the county courthouse in Eureka. Public comment on Chapters 5, Infrastrucutre, and Chapter 7, Circulation, will be taken at that meeting.
Additionally, written comment of any length should be addressed to Kathy Hayes, clerk of the board, 825 Fifth Street, Eureka, 95501. Comment may also be emailed to email@example.com.