Acting on the recommendation of the Public Participation Working Group at their hearing last Monday, Oct. 21, the county board of supervisors agreed to include the entire text of Section 1500 of the Framework General Plan in Chapter 2, the Public Guide, of the county’s General Plan Update.
Section 1500, which was written in the early 1980s by an advisory committee that included Southern Humboldt resident Peter Childs, spells out in detail goals, policies, standards, and implementation measures for encouraging the maximum amount of public input into the GPU, community plans, and other planning issues.
Policies regarding education of the public, access to decision makers, timing of steps, advisory committees, and distribution of a citizen’s handbook were key points in Section 1500.
While the complete text was not included in the draft GPU presented to the planning commission in 2008 for review and recommendations to the supervisors, staff explained that its provisions were included in appropriate places throughout the GPU Public Guide, Chapter 2, and the Governance Element, Chapter 3.
Citizen complaints that the county was not following its own established procedure led to the creation of the Public Participation Working Group (PPWG) in 2011.
In response to their input, staff re-inserted most of the provisions of Section 1500 in the goals, policies, standards, and implementation measures of Chapter 3, the Governance Element. These changes were approved by the planning commission and passed on to the supervisors, but the PPWG continued to call for inclusion of the original document exactly as written.
PPWG members appearing at the Oct. 21 hearing were Childs; Dan Taranto of Fieldbrook, another of the original authors of Section 1500; Bonnie Blackberry of the Civil Liberties Monitoring Project; and SoHum resident Tom Grover.
Second district supervisor Estelle Fennell, a member of the PPWG prior to her election in 2012, was unable to attend the Oct. 21 GPU hearing due to illness.
The staff report for the Oct. 21 hearing prepared by senior planner Michael Richardson stated that it would be redundant to include the full text of Section 1500 into Chapter Two, as well as creating some internal inconsistencies of wording, because all of the provisions already appear in Chapter 3.
PPWG members pressed for the complete text, however.
".... The testimony before you comes late in the planning process... the public needs to be involved from the beginning," Childs told the board. He said he believes that previous planning staff "made a conscious decision" to ignore Section 1500, particularly regarding the appointment of CACs.
Appointing CACs for each community would relieve both staff and board of the burden of dealing with the large amount of conflicting public comment and complaints that planning issues draw, Childs went on. The "contentiousness" could be worked out early in each community by the CACs, who could present the board with "community consensus."
Two residents of the Avenue of the Giants, Fern Konieczny of Phillipsville and Mary Whitmire of Myers Flat, each complained about the process that created the Avenue of the Giants Community Plan (completed 2000), stating that community input was ignored.
Konieczny gave the board two sets of petitions, one from 1996 and one from 2011, with close to 250 signatures of Avenue residents who felt that their rights were violated because the county did not follow Section 1500 when it failed to appoint CACs.
Whitmire said nearly all the public meetings about the Avenue Plan were held at South Fork High School in Miranda, and only one meeting was held in Myers Flat. Furthermore, and although public comments were written "on large pieces of white paper," the end product did not reflect them. "Nobody I spoke to was happy with the results," she said.
Grover said throughout the GPU process public comments either do not appear on the record or they are recorded inaccurately in brief summaries. He recommended that detailed minutes and attendance rolls be kept for all planning meetings, and that summaries of comments be made available to be reviewed and corrected by the speakers.
A speaker from Eureka questioned whether the PPWG actually represented the "public" since it appeared to be made up of only five persons who did not speak for him, a member of the public. "I feel it’s a very narrow group, not reflective of the 135,000 people in Humboldt County," he said.
"We aren’t representing the public," Blackberry responded, explaining that the PPWG was simply a group working on the county’s policies about public participation.
"Section 1500 is like the Bill of Rights," she added in support of its complete inclusion in the GPU. "It needs to be in the public eye where people can see it plainly."
"When you look back historically... we’ve consistently heard, especially from rural people, that they felt like their arguments never hit the record," 1st district supervisor Rex Bohn said as the board began its discussion, adding, "We’ve all agreed we’re not going to agree on everything."
"There’s nothing in Section 1500 that I don’t support," said 3rd district supervisor Mark Lovelace, adding that he saw only two provisions that were not done in the current GPU process: the "broad distribution" of the Citizens Handbook and the formation of CACs.
Hundreds of meetings were held during the past 13 years of the GPU process, Lovelace continued. Thousands of people were involved and made comment, and those comments were documented along with staff responses.
Childs agreed that lots of meetings were held, but said he was standing at "a different end of the elephant" (a reference to the fable of the six blind men who touch different parts of an elephant and then describe six different animals), and thus sees different things. "I saw Section 1500 not happen," he said.
The absence of CACs seemed to be the major focus of dissatisfaction with the GPU process. Lovelace and board chair Ryan Sundberg, who represents the mostly rural 5th district, thought that Section 1500 states "CACs may be appointed" rather than "shall be appointed."
Actually Section 1500, subsection 1552 states "CACs should be created to review and prepare recommendations on planning matters that affect their individual communities."
While "shall" means an "unequivocal commitment," the word "should" is "not permissive" but requires findings as to why an action should not be taken, Taranto pointed out. In other words, the county would need to establish a good reason not to appoint CACs.
All the supervisors were concerned about the feasibility of complying with subsection 1542, point 8, which calls for planning commission meetings to be held in the "geographic areas under consideration," noting the high cost and complications of bringing all the commissioners, staff, public access television, and other technology needed to present and record a meeting, to outlying areas.
They resolved the problem by noting that the text of this point says "wherever practical." Sundberg added that improvements in technology are likely to solve these problems in the next 20 years.
The supervisors then voted 4-0 to include the full text of Section 1500 into Chapter 2, the Public Guide. They also approved the PPWG’s recommendations along with some additional staff recommendations to changes in Chapter 3, Governance.
The glossary included at the end of Chapter 3, however, will be reviewed at the next hearing on Monday, Nov. 4.
In addition to the long discussion of Chapters 2 and 3, the supervisors reviewed the remaining items in the Economic Development Element.
The policy calling for discretionary review (by requiring a special or conditional use permit) of retail stores over 50,000 square feet - commonly referred to as "Big Box" stores - had been eliminated by the board on Sept. 23 by a 3-1-1 vote, with Lovelace dissenting and Fennell abstaining. Therefore, the standards and implementation measures that would have applied to this policy were deleted by a 3-1 vote, Lovelace dissenting, last Monday.
An implementation measure for re-use of discarded materials and waste by-products was unanimously approved following changing the wording from "Develop ‘highest and best use’ opportunities for waste reduction...." to "Work with other entities to encourage ...."
A proposal to develop a "local preference" policy that would give local vendors an edge in bidding on supply contracts with the county was also approved 4-0 following a lengthy discussion on its feasibility, effectiveness, and the meaning of the word "local."
During this discussion, county administrative officer Phil Smith-Hanes observed that any business operating with a business license from Humboldt County and paying taxes to Humboldt County is considered a "local business" for this purpose, so this would not rule out the purchase of supplies from chain stores like Wal-Mart, Staples, etc.
Smith-Hanes also presented the supervisors with a proposed schedule of hearings that would extend through September of next year. During the months of March, April, and May, five hearings will cover the land use maps, which will show the proposed land use designation for every parcel in the unincorporated areas of the county.
Every owner of a parcel or parcels whose proposed land use designation is different than the current one, approximately 3500 parcels countywide, will receive notification of the change.
Many people commented that notice was late, inadequate, and confusing during the planning commission’s review of land use designations. Planning staff pledged to do a better job of getting the information out, both by individual notice and in newspapers and other media.
After discussion, the supervisors determined that four of the land use map hearings, one for each district except the 2nd district, will be held in Eureka on Monday evenings from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Although Fennell was absent, the rest of the board felt comfortable approving a mapping meeting in SoHum, probably at South Fork High School to accommodate the necessary technology, that would cover all of the 2nd district and the southernmost portion of the 1st district.
Specific details will be worked out by Smith-Hanes and staff and presented to the board at a later time.
The next GPU hearing, which will begin the discussion of the Open Space and Conservation Element, will be held next Monday, Nov. 4, from 1:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the supervisors’ chambers at the county courthouse in Eureka.