The county board of supervisors completed their deliberations and straw votes on the Guiding Principles of the General Plan Update at their hearing on Monday, Oct. 7, with four of the five supervisors approving revisions that emphasize property rights and incentives for land stewardship.
Third district supervisor Mark Lovelace was the lone dissenting vote on several of the principles dealing with resource lands and the environment.
Several principles relating to process passed unanimously with minor revisions from the language originally proposed by 1st district supervisor Rex Bohn and 2nd district supervisor Estelle Fennell last June.
Fennell and Bohn's proposed principles were themselves a revision of the original set of Guiding Principles recommended by the county planning commission and passed on to the supervisors in the summer of 2012. The June 2013 version caused many organizations and individuals to ask for more time for public review and an additional hearing.
A hearing on the revised Guiding Principles was scheduled for Sept. 23 but at that time the board completed only five of the 11 proposed principles, so discussion was continued to the Oct. 7 hearing. (See related story in our Oct. 1 issue.)
Approximately 25 members of the public attended the Oct. 7 hearing, and 15 people spoke during the initial public comment period.
Speakers on both sides of the issue asserted that, "Everyone is an environmentalist," noting that no one wants to do harm to the place where they live.
But statements from the first two speakers illustrated the wide range of outlooks under that generalization.
Gordon Leppig of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife objected to lessening of restrictions on density in rural areas, stating that scientific literature shows that "more houses in the woods" have well-documented environmental impacts, including fragmentation of habitat, stream diversion, and increases in erosion and sedimentation of streams.
On the other hand, landowner Kent Sawatsky of Blue Lake proposed a new principle, "Protect and preserve the tax base." If this were the number-one principle, everything else desirable for the county would follow, because without money, the county cannot achieve any other goals, Sawatsky said.
Among the speakers urging the board to reject revisions that would weaken safeguards for resource lands and the environment were two residents of Southern Humboldt, Bob Froelich and Barbara Kennedy.
SoHum resident Tom Grover pointed out that housing problems exist in rural areas as well as in town, and he questioned the term "discourage sprawl." The concept of "urban sprawl" was developed during the post-World War II building boom, Grover said, "when millions of houses were being built in the forest," a situation that he said does not exist today.
"The state of California has the most stringent guidelines in the country, and we also have federal guidelines," said Tina Christensen, speaking for the Humboldt Association of Realtors.
Most of the environmental damage has been caused by marijuana cultivation, not by timber practices or homeowners on the land, she continued. "Homeowners are not destroying their land because they'll want to sell it someday," Christensen said. "They wouldn't destroy what they worked so hard to get."
When the board began its deliberations, 4th district supervisor Virginia Bass requested a re-examination of principle #4, which had been approved at the Sept. 23 hearing.
The Sept. 23 version stated: "Cooperate with service providers and promote efficient use of roads, water and sewer services by encouraging development in areas with existing infrastructure and discouraging conversion of resource lands and open space to other uses."
Last week the board received a letter from the Arcata city council stating their concern that the supervisors' decision to allow two residences by right on Timber Production Zone (TPZ) land would create impacts on land owned and managed for timber production by the city of Arcata in its planning area but outside the city limits.
At the conclusion of that letter, the Arcata city council expressed their support for principle #4 as approved on Sept. 23.
All the supervisors except for Lovelace, whose district includes Arcata, seemed disturbed and somewhat angered by this letter and the short timeframe in which they had to consider it.
The letter, said Bass, caused her to re-think her support for principle #4. "I don't want to ‘discourage' anything," she concluded.
Bohn agreed, saying "We shouldn't discourage; we should assist people to manage their land better," and then added that he had never heard about water diversion problems until the issue of large-scale marijuana cultivation came up.
Although the county now sees the damage being done by large pot grows, "This is not what the GPU is about," Fennell said. "The GPU is about how to make a good life" for people who are living on the land legally.
Lovelace argued that allowing people to buy and sell smaller parcels while getting the tax benefits of being in TPZ enables growers to buy them at a financially feasible price, with the cost being subsidized by California taxpayers.
After a lengthy debate, which included members of the public, the board voted 4-1 to delete the reference to "discouraging conversion of resource lands to other uses," maintaining that the answer to environmental impacts is better enforcement of the law.
Lovelace also held out for retaining the words, "Protect agriculture and timber... using measures such as increased restrictions..." in principle #6, but other board members preferred replacing "protect" with "encourage, incentivize, and support," without reference to restrictions on subdivision and development.
Fennell proposed adding "ecosystem services" to the list of uses to be encouraged, and the board voted 4-1 to approve the principle with that change.
Moving on to #7, which the June revisions had changed from "Protect natural resources..." to "Honor landowners' rights... while using a balanced approach to protect natural resources..." the supervisors agreed to substitute "Support individual rights" for "Honor landowners' rights..." but the rest of the change elicited comments from some members of the public.
"I am dismayed at how you can resist the word ‘protect,'" Bob Froelich said, noting that the board was "watering down" the language in the principles, striking words such as "protect," "restrict," "discourage," and substituting "support" and "encourage."
Some speakers suggested that individual rights and environmental protection should be separated into two principles. Fennell replied that she saw the clause "while using a balanced approach to protect natural resources," as a bridge between two values which adds strength to the principle.
A suggestion that the order be reversed so that the principle would read, "Protect natural resources... while using a balanced approach to support individual rights," prompted a member of the audience to shout, "Individuals come first!" from her seat.
The board approved the principle with "Support individual rights..." at the beginning by 4-1 with Lovelace dissenting.
Lovelace asked the board to reconsider a principle that the GPU should include "actionable plans for infrastructure financing and construction" that had been dropped in the June 2013 revision.
He received no support from the other board members, who felt that #4 with its call for cooperation with service providers adequately covered the question of infrastructure financing. The other supervisors argued that specifying an "actionable plan" could lead to additional costs for developers in the form of burdensome impact fees.
But this is not about developer impact fees, Weott Community Services District board chair Barbara Kennedy stated. Weott's water system is old and failing, their capital improvements fund totals only $29,000, and because the district has had no violations of state law, their applications for state funds go to the bottom of the pile. "Small CSDs need help!" she concluded.
”'Actionable plan' is too vague,” Bass said, and Fennell reiterated that the matter was covered by "Cooperate with service providers" in #4.
The board again voted 4-1 to drop this principle.
The final four principles, which deal with "practical strategies" and various aspects of public participation, were approved unanimously with some minor word changes.
At the request of the Public Participation Working Group, the Citizens' Handbook, a guide to the planning process, was added to the last principle, which calls for a "broad public participation program at all levels of the decision-making process."
Following a break, the board continued its discussion of the Economic Development Element, approving a number of policies that were largely non-controversial.
Several members of the audience called for rail to be added to a list of transportation methods covered in a policy to support "freight mobility."
The board also voted to support port development and improvements to highways, including Highways 101 and 299. The discussion was brief and general, with no mention of controversial issues such as Caltrans' Richardson Grove re-alignment project on 101.
Finally the board reviewed its hearing schedule. The supervisors as well as the public seemed shocked by county administrative officer Phil Smith-Hanes' estimated completion date for the entire GPU - September 2014.
The new schedule includes 17 hearings twice a month on Monday afternoons, except for the months of June and July, 2014, when the board will be tied up in budget hearings.
The schedule assigns six hearings for the Conservation and Open Space Element, which includes several chapters and which is likely to generate lots of discussion; two for Water Resources; one for Community Plans; five for the maps, which assign land use designations on a parcel-by-parcel basis; and two for the Environmental Impact Report.
The votes for final approval will take place during the board's regular meetings on Tuesdays following completion of the review.
The board discussed the possibility of holding the mapping meetings in each district. They agreed that each supervisor could arrange such meetings as he or she feels is best, but that decisions to revise and approve the maps would take place at hearings in Eureka, as the entire board must vote on them.
The next hearing, scheduled for Monday, Oct. 21, will cover a variety of issues, including a single item regarding the designation for tribal lands from the Land Use Element; the balance of the Economic Development Element; Chapter 2, the Public Guide; and Chapter 3, Governance Policy.
The board will also develop a list of items that need to be addressed from the Conservation and Open Space Element. The list will be based on requests from individual supervisors and from the public, in the hope of streamlining the deliberations.
Next Monday's hearing will be held from 1:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the board of supervisors' chambers at the county courthouse in Eureka.