On Monday, Sept. 23, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisor's afternoon meeting was shorter than expected because it started late due to a fire alarm. The discussion on the tribal lands designation was put off until another time since some comments are still outstanding.
The board continued their discussion of the Ecomonic Development section of the Planning Commission approved draft of the General Plan Update.
The county's supplemental report states, “The Economic Development element provides an overview of the economy, characterizing the trends, land, and infrastructure needs that will shape the future. It is a set of goals, policies and implementation measures to promote and sustain economic prosperity.... This element is not a required part of the general plan, it is an optional element. However, it is a land use issue of importance expressed often at public meetings.”
Key issues of this section include the county's role in supporting economic development and allowance for big box stores.
Public comment included suggestions to focus on eco-tourism and the Harbor District when considering economic development in the county.
The most contentious issue up for discussion was ED-P6, Large Format Retail, another name for big box retail. The planning commission in their draft of this section had a split vote of 4-2-1 in favor of requiring discretionary review including analysis of the economic and workforce impacts of large
Suggestions of the ad hoc working group, a self-selecting coalition of diverse interest groups who represent a spectrum of perspectives and make comments on the General Plan Update, were included.
Staff presented two options. The first option was to retain the planning commission version because the goal of the economic development element is to support local business, so large format retail proposals should be analyzed for their impacts on local business.
The second option was to delete the provision as no longer relevant because the county should support more jobs regardless.
The ad hoc working group's recommendation was to choose the first option with the removal of the word workforce, since that was under the umbrella of economic impacts, although they were also split on the issue.
Staff supported option one with the modification. Richardson said staff recommended that the required analysis would look at the impacts on local businesses, thereby narrowing and targeting the parameter of involvement.
During discussion supervisor Ryan Sundberg asked if some places could be pre-zoned for big box retail. He was concerned that the first option would create too much regulation and review and therefore be limiting to business development. Richardson responded that it was possible but would take some work to find appropriate places in the county and then it would have to be included in the environmental document and land use designations would have to be determined.
Big box for this purpose was defined as a store that is 50,000 square feet or larger. Richardson said that 43,000 square feet equals one acre. The existing Target store in Eureka is about three acres. Costco is about three acres. A typical Safeway store is about 20,000 square feet in size. There are some big box retail stores in Eureka that would have triggered this policy.
One speaker of the ad hoc working group said that the policy was inconsistent with encouraging and allowing business. He said that big box competition helps small local businesses, that they encourage competition and give people more choices. And they would have to go through California Environmental Quality Act for analysis anyway, he said.
Supervisor Lovelace pointed out later that CEQA does not address impacts on local businesses.
Another speaker presented the ad hoc working group's other side of the argument. Large retail could impact local retail, he said, and he questioned whether big box retail is good for local business.
Another speaker said she spends a lot of money out of town at big box stores. They do not drive out other businesses, she said. There should be analysis of why local businesses leave. She supported deleting the requirements for discretionary review for big box retail.
The board took a straw vote to delete the requirement for discretionary review of big box retail, 3-1-1. Supervisor Lovelace voted against deletion, supervisor Estelle Fennell abstained, saying she had to think about it more.
Supervisor Mark Lovelace hoped it could be discussed further at the next meeting.
On the rest of the discussion items that afternoon, as the board went through section by section, staff recommendations often coincided with suggestions made by the ad hoc working group.
In telecommunications, ED-G9 and ED-GX1 discussion acknowledged how quickly technology evolves. Language that would not limit support and workforce development options in yet unknown telecommunication technology were preferred by the ad hock group, and the staff and board supported that.
To the goal of providing adequate water and wastewater services to accommodate business and residential needs the words “environmental enhancement” were added. Land inventory ready to meet the demand for high value uses such as commercial and industrial expansion and natural resource production was deemed to be consistent with the prosperity strategy. Discussion on section ED-G10 through ED-G13 that addressed these matters involved minor changes that mostly resulted from the ad hoc working group suggestions.
In discussing policies ED-P1X, Economic Stability and Diversity, a new policy added by the ad hoc working group, staff supported the ad hoc group's suggestions with some modifications.
Senior planner Michael Richardson explained that there are certain funds allocated for promoting economic stability and growth. He said staff believes the resources should be used in the areas identified in the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS). This is to promote economic stability, growth and diversity by emphasizing development of target industries indentified as priorities in the CEDS and encouraging innovation, entrepreneurship and global competition. Discussion was on language that will remain relevant, and encourage any economic activity. It was important to the speakers that addressed the board that there is not language that inadvertently limits economic activity.
ED-P2, Job Growth and Work Force had similar discussion and staff supported the ad hoc working group's suggestion with modifications to collaborate with economic development entities in the region to promote job growth and entrepreneurship in industries identified as priorities in the CEDS, without excluding other industries. The wording included to “work with the education and private sectors to promote education, vocational training professional development and lifelong learning in the workforce.”
A speaker for the real estate industry wanted language added that specified the county would “not be a constraint to” business. The supervisors discussed whether the government is seen as a constraint to new businesses in Humboldt and in California. Supervisor Lovelace stated that the language in this section, “collaborate to promote job growth” is affirmative and proactive.
Supervisor Sundberg said that most businesses want the government to get out of the way. “They'd love us to do nothing,” he said.
Supervisor Rex Bohn said, “You can't have enough get out of the way,” in referring to the county's role when it comes to encouraging new private sector businesses in the county.
This one was passed by the supervisors 4-1 with supervisor Bohn dissenting.
Then the supervisors voted in support of ED-P3 to promote affordable housing and ED-P5 to plan for the increasing transportation, service and housing needs of the county's aging population.
Discussion on the Economic Development section of the General Plan Update will continue on Mon., Oct. 7.