Supes OK open-ended review of Open Space Element: Commission tackles knotty issues

Virginia Graziani

Redwood Times

At their regular board meeting last Tuesday, Feb. 4, county supervisors voted 3-2 to instruct the planning commission to begin their reconsideration of the Conservation and Open Space Element of the General Plan Update with a short list of items effected by a change in habitat definitions, but to use their own judgment as to what other provisions to review.

The supervisors' action came in response to a request for clarification from the commission last week. The commission was evenly split, three to three, on interpretation of the supervisors' motion to "remand" the Open Space Element to the commission. (See related story, "Commission struggles with scope of GPU review," in our Feb. 4 issue.)

Second district supervisor Estelle Fennell joined 3rd district supervisor Mark Lovelace, with whom she has often been at odds on land use issues, in voting no on the motion to keep the commission's review open-ended.

Fennell noted she had voted against sending the entire element for review by the planning commission when the question first came before the board on Jan. 13. "And I will again," she said at the outset of the board's discussion.

"I saw this as an interruption to the [GPU] process," she explained. Fennell added that she would prefer to see the commission focus on the limited number of provisions that would be effected by a change in habitat definitions to conform to federal and state standards.

The planning commission is required to review the entire GPU for internal consistency after the board has deliberated on all the elements and tentatively approved the whole document, Fennell pointed out. She would prefer that the supervisors complete their process and make the changes they feel necessary before sending it back to the commission.

The board has already reviewed the majority of the elements, with only the Open Space and the Water Resources Elements left on their schedule before taking up the mapping of land use designations and the draft environmental impact report, the last steps to complete this round.

Seven members of the public addressed the board on this topic, offering a mixture of viewpoints on the scope of the planning commission's review.

In order to meet the 45-day deadline established by the supervisors in January, the commission scheduled two special meetings a week on Tuesday and Thursday evenings until March 10, when the supervisors resume their GPU hearings.

Several people referred to the difficulty of public participation with such a crowded schedule, particularly for residents of rural areas who have long distances to drive.

In the meantime, while waiting for clarification from the supervisors, the commission went ahead with the special meeting of Thursday, Jan. 30.

Commissioners readily agreed to change the habitat definitions to conform to federal and state law, but conducted an extensive discussion on the definition of wetlands that included conflicting public input.

The definition of wetlands originally recommended by the commission in 2011 follows the "three-parameter" definition used by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).

At the Jan. 28 commission meeting, however, builder Kevin McKenny and others urged the current commissioners to define "wetlands" according to the Army Corps of Engineers, contending that CDFW's definition creates too many obstacles to creation of affordable housing.

Proponents of the CDFW definition, including CDFW staff, argued the Army Corps defines wetlands in a way that facilitates the building of dams and levees, which is part of their mission. CDFW's mission, on the other hand, is to protect wildlife and wildlife habitat.

After hearing both sides, the commission voted 4-0 to use the Army Corps definition. Commissioners Linda Disiere and Sue Masten were absent; newly appointed commissioner Noah Levy agreed not to vote at this meeting following a challenge from Eureka attorney Bill Bertain, who asserted that supervisor Lovelace had not followed an ordinance about noticing his appointment.

Levy pointed out that the ordinance calls for a supervisor to "endeavor" to notify the board and commission three days before the new appointee is seated, but he offered to abstain from voting until the matter was cleared up.

At the next special commission meeting, held last Tuesday, Feb. 4, the commission wrestled with two long and detailed standards in the Biological Resources section of the Open Space element.

Standard BR-S8 regarding required mitigation measures within designated streamside management areas was revised to limit the amount of area where mitigations must be made to reduce the impact of development.

This revision was adopted on a 5-2 vote with commissioner Dave Edmonds and Levy dissenting.

The commission also voted to modify standard BR-S9 covering erosion control within streamside management areas, a detailed provision containing eight sub-standards.

A clause limiting the erosion control requirement to areas "specified by referral areas" was added to the general statement.

A substandard requiring the reseeding of slopes was amended to specify "Slopes, as defined in the Forest Practice Rules, as amended, may have different mitigation measures assigned to them based upon the severity of the slope..." rather than using only the word "slopes."

This revision passed 5-2, with commissioners Masten and Levy dissenting.

The commission also began discussion of BR-S10 regarding wetlands setbacks but did not reach a decision point. Discussion of this issue will continue at the next special meeting tonight, Tuesday, Feb. 11.

The planning commission's regular monthly meeting was set for Thursday, Feb. 6, at which time the draft of the 2014 Housing Element was the main agenda item. Reports on the Housing Element draft will appear in future issues of the Redwood Times.

Deliberations on the Open Space Element, specifically the Open Space and Biological Resources sections, are slated for discussion on Tuesday and Thursday of this week, beginning at 6 p.m. in the supervisors' chambers of the county courthouse in Eureka.

For more information or to make written comments, see the GPU website,, or call the planning department at 445-7541.