Hope for progress on the sluggish General Plan Update review bloomed Monday, Nov. 5, at the board of supervisors' hearing as members of nearly a dozen organizations announced the formation of a collaborative working group.
Lee Ulansey of the Humboldt Coalition for Property Rights and Dan Ehresman of Healthy Humboldt, two groups whose outlooks on land use regulation are often dramatically opposed, made the announcement jointly, kicking off the public comment segment of the hearing.
In addition to Healthy Humboldt and HumCPR, members of the Humboldt Association of Realtors, the Northern California Association of Homebuilders, the Complete Streets Working Group, the Civil Liberties Monitoring Project, United Stand, the California Center for Rural Policy, and the Humboldt Area Foundation came together in a "herculean effort" over the weekend of Nov. 3-4 to formulate the working group and prepare statements to the board of supervisors, Ulansey said.
Ehresman explained that the new working group hopes to make the process easier for the supervisors by identifying areas of agreement among the groups, resolving disagreements whenever possible, and describing each side of unresolved disagreements in a single document.
The board is currently struggling to review not only the planning commission's recommended draft of the GPU, which took almost three years to complete, but also a mountain of recent public comment.
Supervisors, particularly 1st district supervisor Rex Bohn and 5th district supervisor Ryan Sundberg, have previously said they are confused by the complexity of the GPU and the large amount of conflicting comment.
Bohn expressed skepticism as well as support for the effort, estimating that the working group represents "80 percent" of the comment the supervisors receive and "100 percent of the conflict... It looks like a reality show in the making."
One by one participants in the working group came to the podium to urge the supervisors to give their blessing and to explain why they joined the group and what they hoped to accomplish.
Several people noted that they were speaking only for themselves at present, since they had not had time to present the idea to their organizations' boards for official approval.
The working group is not asking for official appointment but wishes to remain ad hoc and self-run, Ehresman said in response to a question from 3rd district supervisor Mark Lovelace. Ulansey added that they did not intend to take a "formalized position."
The working group plans to submit comments on all the elements, but to begin with the Circulation Element, which was scheduled for review following completion of the Infrastructure Element on the board's agenda for Nov. 5 and the continued hearing on Thursday, Nov. 8.
They chose the Circulation Element because while it has "contentious components, they are not as monumental" as other elements of the draft GPU, Ulansey said.
Several members of the working group emphasized that they hope to streamline the comments so that the supervisors will find it easier to move forward. In response to board questions, Ulansey said the group wants to speed up, not slow down, the process.
Nevertheless, the board debated whether to cancel the Nov. 8 hearing and whether or not to continue deliberations and straw votes on any of the elements, including Infrastructure, which was approximately half done, until the group has had time to meet and prepare its input.
Bohn and Sundberg initially supported delaying all discussion until the next scheduled hearing on Monday, Dec. 3, but allowing a brief evening session of the Nov. 5 hearing as scheduled to take public comment from persons not able to attend the afternoon session.
Lovelace and 2nd district supervisor Clif Clendenen, on the other hand, wanted the board to continue with deliberation of the Infrastructure Element as agendized, and if any time remained, to take up the Economic Development Element, which has only a few provisions that require resolution.
Board chair and 4th district supervisor Virginia Bass appeared to favor continuing discussion of the Infrastructure Element but to delay voting until Dec. 3. Interim planning director Martha Spencer pointed out that straw votes are not binding and can be changed as new information and comment are received.
Ultimately, by general consensus the board agreed to go ahead with all the scheduled hearings, to discuss and take straw votes on the Infrastructure and Economic Development elements, but to delay discussion of the Circulation Element until Dec. 3.
During the dinner break the working group participants met among themselves to make certain each group wanted to continue and that the coalition would stick together, as well as to establish their own meeting schedule.
When the hearing reconvened at 6 p.m., Hezekiah Allen of the Mattole Restoration Council, who was described by Ulansey as the "glue" that facilitated bringing the disparate groups together, announced that the working group had committed to meeting eight hours a week to develop their comments on the Circulation Element by the Dec. 3 hearing.
Asked whether the group preferred the board to continue its deliberations on other elements, Allen said, "We are explicitly neutral."
The board also heard public comment from 13 new speakers, all of whom expressed support for multi-modal (non-motorized as well as motorized) transportation in the Circulation Element.
Speakers included students from a charter school in McKinleyville, their parents and the director of the school, in support of the Safe Routes to School program. Maggie Kraft from Area 1 Agency on Aging and Mary Anderson, California Senior Legislature assemblyperson, advocated for increased safety and transportation options for seniors.
Charlie Bean, a wheelchair-bound candidate for the Eureka City Council, pointed out that the element lacks any mention of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Bean touched on several ADA issues and noted that there are five different levels of accessibility in the law, and all of them need to be addressed.
The supervisors then resumed discussion of the Infrastructure Element. They approved revised versions of three policies sent back to staff at the Oct. 15 hearing and deliberated on the six remaining policies in the element, approving all of them by at least a 4-1 vote except one involving fire safety standards, which was sent to the fire chiefs for comment.
But the board bogged down in the next section of the element, which goes into more specific detail about standards. With less than half an hour left, they agreed to continue discussion of standards to Thursday afternoon.
On Thursday, however, with no members of the public commenting on the Circulation Element, the board split over whether to continue their deliberations on the Infrastructure Element or put everything off until Dec. 3.
Although the working group had specified they were beginning their process with the Circulation Element and were "explicitly neutral" about continuing with the Infrastructure Element, Sundberg and Bohn argued in favor of waiting until Dec. 3 for any further discussion.
Lovelace and Clendenen wanted to resume deliberations on the Infrastructure Element. Lovelace pointed out the planning commission's lengthy review process included ample public comment and said the board is abdicating its responsibility to make decisions.
He noted that the work the board has already done on the Land Use and Infrastructure Elements demonstrates that "we can do this."
Regarding the working group, Lovelace said, "I'm thinking of that saying, ‘Don't count your chickens before they're hatched.' We don't have chickens, eggs, or even a chicken farm; we have a group that's saying, ‘Let's get together and see if we can have a chicken farm.'"
Clendenen said he hoped the board could work "in parallel" with the working group, adding that while the board needs to incorporate public comment into its deliberations, "part of our responsibility to the public is to deliver the product."
Based on the planning commission's votes, staff had initially presented the board with a short list of contested issues, and the board had then added other items based on additional public comment to create the "expanded short list," Clendenen continued.
"Much of the tedium of this process is caused by our decision to deviate from the expanded short list and look at every item in the element," Clendenen said.
Bass, seeming torn between two sets of arguments, suggested discussing the rest of the Infrastructure Element but not taking straw votes.
Bohn and Sundberg did not want even to discuss the provisions, preferring to wait until the next hearing when the working group will report on how well its process is going. Clendenen and Lovelace felt it was pointless to have a discussion without taking straw votes, which Clendenen characterized as "placeholders" that inform each supervisor how the others feel about the issues.
Finally Clendenen called the question, and the board voted 3-2 to support Sundberg's motion, with Lovelace and Clendenen opposed.
The next GPU hearing is now scheduled for Monday, Dec. 3 beginning at 1:30 p.m. in the supervisors' chambers at the county courthouse in Eureka. Agenda items include the Infrastructure, Circulation, and Economic Development elements, as well as portions of the Land Use Elements that the supervisors originally put off until Nov. 5. It is unlikely that the board will have time to address all the agendized elements, but public comment will be taken on all of them.
Written public comment of any length should be submitted to Kathy Hayes, Clerk of the Board, 825 Fifth Street, Eureka, 95501, or by email to email@example.com.