After extensive public comment and discussion among themselves, the county board of supervisors tentatively resolved two of the most controversial issues in the Land Use Element of the General Plan Update at their hearing last Monday, Sept. 9.
The board cast a unanimous straw vote to eliminate the Conservation Flood Plain (CF) designation that was applied to low-lying areas of Phillipsville and Myers Flat, with the understanding that these areas will be redesignated according to appropriate use.
The letter F will be added to the designations to indicate that these parcels are within the flood hazard zone as mapped by the Army Corps of Engineers following the 1964 flood.
In a later unanimous straw vote, the board also determined to increase the minimum parcel size for lands designated Agricultural Exclusive (AE) to 60 acres, but to allow two residences by right on a 60-acre parcel, providing both the houses are built within the same two-acre footprint.
Residents of Phillipsville and Myers Flat have argued for several years that the definition of "Conservation Flood Plain" shown in the GPU was incorrect and applied only to the flood way, that is the bank-to-bank limits of the river channel.
At the previous hearing on Aug. 23, senior planner Michael Richardson acknowledged the error and agreed to come back with recommendations to fix the problem.
Last week he presented the board with two options: either correct the definition and apply CF or CFR (Conservation Flood Plain-Recreation) to all lands within the 1964 flood plain, not just those on the southern end of the Avenue of the Giants; or delete CF and CFR and do community outreach to determine which designation best reflects "community vision."
But unless the land use designation indicates that these areas are subject to a serious flood hazard, eliminating CF and CFR could expose the county to liability, Richardson warned the board.
The redesignation would have to be acknowledged as a significant impact in the GPU's Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and would require mitigation because of the risk to public safety, he added.
Phillipsville and Myers Flat have been struggling to come up with appropriate descriptions of land uses in their communities, 2nd district supervisor Estelle Fennell noted. She referred to a meeting in Phillipsville last May that she and planning director Kevin Hamblin attended, which included a lengthy discussion of the problem.
Speakers from both towns agreed, and urged the board to change the designation to match the use. Mary Whitmire of Myers Flat invited the board and planning staff to the Myers Flat Mutual Water Company's annual potluck the following Saturday to see the town for themselves.
Realtor Tina Christensen, speaking for the Humboldt Association of Realtors (HAR), argued that since landowners in flood hazard areas pay flood insurance rates based on the degree of hazard, there is no need for further regulation.
The board agreed on a need to separately designate the flood way (the area within the river channel), however, because this is an extremely high hazard area where only very limited uses, such as gravel mining and certain forms of recreation, should be permitted.
Fennell moved to keep CFR with the name changed to match the designation: Conservation Flood Way-Recreation. Her motion included eliminating the CF designation and redesignating lands within the 1964 flood plain to reflect their use with a flood hazard combining zone. The board supported this motion.
The issue of minimum parcel size in the Agricultural Exclusive designation sparked a longer and more difficult discussion.
Staff supports the recommendations of the Rural Lands Working Group (RLWG), a coalition of agricultural and timber organizations, Richardson stated, which calls for a 60-acre minimum parcel size, allowing no further subdivision unless the proposed subdivision is necessary to maximize agricultural use.
Fennell and 5th district supervisor Ryan Sundberg, who is the board chair, wanted RLWG to explain why the minimum parcel size needs to be increased.
"You can control parcel size but you can't control use," said former Farmer Bureau president John LaBoyteaux, speaking for RLWG. All the ag groups, including the North Coast Growers Association, which represents smaller farmers, agree with this position, he said.
The AE designation applies only to the most potentially productive agricultural soils, comprising only three percent of the land in Humboldt County. He cited GPU background reports that show only 50-60,000 acres of prime farmland have been left undeveloped, with the majority in the coastal bottoms and 15-20,000 acres on river terraces.
"[Parcels smaller than 60 acres] are almost always lost to commercial agriculture," LaBoyteaux said. "They become something more like rural estates."
Furthermore, experience in many areas of the county has demonstrated that 60 acres is the minimum amount of land needed to support a farming family, he continued. While someone may successfully grow crops on smaller acreages, they need to have income sources other than farming to support their families.
For example, Dennis Potter, one of the founding members of the North Coast Growers' Association, who farmed on 24 acres in Blue Lake, had a full-time job as an ag instructor and farmed after schools and on weekends, LaBoyteaux said.
Parcels smaller than 60 acres are attractive to people who may want gardens and animals but who are not farming for a living. This in turn raises land prices to residential values, which makes it difficult for farmers to buy farmland.
"We're talking about 50,000 acres, which is the future of agriculture in Humboldt County, vs. the speculation of residential value," LaBoyteaux said.
"We need a land base without small subdivisions and without houses dotted all over the land," said Katherine Ziemer, executive director of the Humboldt County Farm Bureau.
"It's commercial agriculture. It's a business, a large industry that provides an economic base," she pointed out.
"I'm here speaking for the many small farmers who can't be here today because they're working," said Erin Derden-Little of the California Alliance for Family Farmers. "We support the 60 acre minimum."
"So much of our ag land has already been taken by cities and suburbs - all this around here, probably, was ag land - Eureka, Arcata," Fennell observed. She said she would support the 60-acre minimum as long as a residence is allowed "simply and clearly" as a principal use.
The supervisors then discussed whether or not a second unit should be allowed with a conditional use permit. They also discussed whether a second unit, that is, a second full-sized residence, or a secondary unit, a smaller dwelling incidental to the first, is appropriate in AE.
The ag groups don't care how big the second house is, Ziemer told the board. They are more concerned that the two dwellings are located close to each other to minimize the amount of farmland occupied by residences and their curtilage.
After much deliberation Fennell moved to adopt the 60-acre minimum with two residences allowed within a two-acre footprint, and the board agreed.
The board sent the proposed new Tribal Lands (TL) designation back to staff for more research, and unanimously agreed to create a new designation for railroad rights-of-way conditioned on the approval of the North Coast Railroad Authority board, which was meeting in Eureka later in the week.
They then moved on to the Economic Development Element.
One member of the public criticized the element for not addressing "the big green elephant in the room" - the marijuana industry. Another speaker called for provisions to encourage rails-and-trails and develop better internet service in rural areas.
Debbie Provolt of the Humboldt Association of Realtors noted that HAR has withdrawn from the Ad Hoc Working Group, a coalition of organizations with diverse viewpoints that was formed a year ago. HAR is submitting its own comments on the Economic Development Element.
She said the ad hoc group had created a subcommittee to address this element but did not include HAR.
Dan Ehresman of the North Coast Environmental Center, a participant in the Ad Hoc Working Group, said that Larry Henderson, current president of HAR, was among the members of the subcommittee.
"The subcommittee did a lot of work on this [element]," Ehresman said. "We just learned last Friday that HAR dropped out."
Staff had identified only two "key issues" that might require deliberation: the county's role in supporting economic development, and how the county should restrict or manage development of "big box" stores.
As soon as the supervisors started to discuss the goals section of the element, however, it was clear that deliberation of this element could be lengthier and more contentious than expected.
The supervisors debated whether it was appropriate to include "harbor and port" to a goal about "utilization of natural resources" and decided against it to keep the goal as general as possible.
They discussed whether to single out "micro-enterprises" and "disadvantaged communities" in a goal calling for financial and technical assistance programs, and decided to drop micro-enterprises but leave in disadvantaged communities.
A goal to streamline permit processing that emphasized removing barriers that "discourage" micro-enterprise and home-based business drew comment from HAR, whose representatives stated their belief in streamlined permitting for everyone.
After some heated discussion, Fennell proposed using the words "including micro-enterprise and home-based businesses," which won the approval of the entire board.
Deliberations on the Economic Development Element will continue next Monday, Sept. 23 during the afternoon sessions from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Revisions to the Guiding Principles will be reviewed in an evening session starting at 6 p.m., also on Monday, Sept. 23.
To review the revised Guiding Principles, go to www.planupdate.org, and click on the words "meeting materials" printed in green in the text. This will bring up a chart of materials submitted by staff for each hearing. Click on "Proposed New Guiding Principles."
For more information, contact senior planner Michael Richardson at email@example.com or 268-3723.
Written comments of any length that are sent to the clerk of the board of supervisors will be included in the public record. They should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. or sent by postal mail to Kathy Hayes, Clerk of the Board, 825 Fifth Street, Eureka 95501.