Virginia Graziani

Redwood Times

The Humboldt County board of supervisors took up a range of issues at their most recent General Plan Update hearing on Monday, Dec. 2, including remaining items from the Economic Development Element and the Public Guide and Governance Element, as well as beginning the discussion of the Open Space and Conservation Element.

Last Monday's meeting marked the long-awaited return of 2nd District supervisor Estelle Fennell, who has been absent since mid-October with complications from an E. Coli infection.

The room broke into applause at the hearing's conclusion when the board chair, 5th District supervisor Ryan Sundberg, said how happy he was to see Fennell back in action.

Fennell said she was happy to be back as well, and added, “I really appreciate the community's response to this little health challenge,” noting that she had received many prayers and good wishes during her illness.

Sundberg and Fennell both expressed their thanks to Kathleen Creager for all of her help during Fennell's illness.

Approximately two-dozen members of the public attended the meeting, including five Southern Humboldt residents who primarily addressed provisions in Chapters 2 and 3 of the GPU, the Public Guide and the Governance Element.

The Public Participating Working Group (PPWG) has been working with county planning staff on extensive revisions of these two chapters. Their goal is to reinstate the provisions of Section 1500 of the Framework General Plan, which was completed in 1984 and remains in effect until the GPU is completed.

Section 1500 includes detailed policies and measures regarding public participation in land use planning. The draft GPU that staff presented to the planning commission for deliberation in 2011-12 did not carry over the provisions of Section 1500.

Although staff revised the two chapters to include items from Section 1500 during the planning commission's review, the PPWG found the revised draft inadequate, asserting that it left out key items. The working group has continued to correspond and meet with staff to develop a more satisfactory version.

Senior planner Michael Richardson distributed a “revised revision” just completed that morning to the supervisors at the hearing.

Richardson characterized the 1984 plan as “more aggressive” regarding public participation than the draft GPU. The PPWG would like to retain the stronger version, he said, and reminded the board that the final decision was up to them.

”We worked hard to keep the intent [of Section 1500] while updating language from 1984,” planning director Kevin Hamblin explained.

”[The most recent revision] goes a long way to making us very happy,” said Dan Taranto of the PPWG, and Peter Childs added, “I'm pretty much in favor of this draft.”

Other speakers echoed these feelings, thanking the current board and staff for their willingness to work with the PPWG and to incorporate the stronger language of Section 1500 into the GPU. “We're down to commas and stuff like that,” said Tom Grover.

Childs also urged the board to reinstate Community Advisory Committees. “A lot of the contentiousness you have to deal with won't be an issue,” he told the supervisors. “It will already have been resolved, compromises will have been made.”

Harbor commissioner Mike Wilson said, in consideration of public participation, he was concerned that revisions proposed to another element by the Humboldt Association of Realtors (HAR) were included in the matrix presented to the board for their discussion, instead of being attached as a separate document.

This appears to give HAR a higher standing than other groups or individual members of the public. “It's disenheartening,” Wilson said. Everyone's comments should have equal standing, he said.

Fennell noted that the recommendations of other groups, such as the Resource Lands Working Group and the unnamed ad hoc working group that commented on several of the elements, had been included in the matrixes of other elements. 

These groups put “lots of work” into preparing recommendations on specific provisions. “The bottom line is that what we want is as much help as possible in understanding the dynamics of the public,” said Fennell.

Because neither the board nor the public had time even to read the “revised revision” of the Public Guide and the Governance Element, chair Sundberg asked staff to post it on the GPU website. He continued the discussion to the next hearing, Dec. 16.

To see the most recent version of these chapters, as well as other documents, go to www.planupdate.org and click on the words “meeting materials” in green in the first bullet point of the text. A list of meeting dates, topics, and documents appears in the next screen. Click on the document you want to view.

The board voted unanimously to approve several of the remaining items in the Economic Development Element, including a new implementation measure calling for the county to “streamline regulatory review of proposed commercial development [and] zone adequate land for commercial use.”

Asked by a member of the public to define “adequate” in this context, the supervisors and Hamblin responded that the definition would be addressed when the zoning ordinances are written.

After a long discussion the board sent an implementation measure calling for inspections when a business changes ownership back to staff for reconsideration and revision.

While the supervisors acknowledged the need for inspections, they were reluctant to create a requirement that would delay the new owner's ability to quickly re-open the business once the sale is complete.

Members of the public urged the board to create a distinction between major and minor problems so that the owner could get the insurance needed to resume business if the only issues found on inspection were not immediately threatening to health and safety, such as replacing switch covers or damaged trim.

Staff will bring back revisions for the board's approval on Dec. 16.

The Open Space and Conservation Element, which contains a number of chapters covering biological, water, mineral, cultural, and scenic resources as well as wastewater management and open space, is expected to generate plenty of discussion and some difficult decisions.

The ad hoc working group, which includes persons representing a variety of groups and viewpoints, has been meeting to address several of the chapters (excluding cultural resources and wastewater) to determine whether they agree on recommendations to bring to the board.

As public comment on this element opened, two of the ad hoc group's members, registered professional forester Craig Compton of Green Diamond Resources and botanist Jen Kalt of Healthy Humboldt and Humboldt Baykeeper, addressed the board together.

They found problems with the draft GPU's use of the terms “critical habitat,” “essential habitat,” and “sensitive habitat” in the Biological Resources chapter.

”Critical habitat” is a federal designation tied to the Endangered Species Act, they explained, and as such has a specific definition. Since this term applies only to projects that require a federal permit or have federal funding, the ad hoc group recommends that the county “defer to responsible federal agencies regarding critical habitat designation.”

The group found “essential habitat” to have no substantiation in either federal or state law, and therefore recommended that it be deleted from the GPU.

Finally, while the term “sensitive habitat” has no federal or state definition either, the ad hoc group felt this term could be used to define habitats and resources that the county intends to regulate through the GPU.

They noted inconsistencies in definitions between provisions in the text of the chapter and the attached glossary, so they further requested that the definitions be revised for consistency before continuing with deliberations on the Biological Resources chapter.

The board readily agreed, and the ad hoc group plans to work with staff to bring revised definitions back on Dec. 16.

In the meantime, the supervisors heard some additional public comment on the Open Space element. Among the speakers was Mary Whitmore of Myers Flat, who said she did not understand how the town of Myers Flat came to be designated as “Open Space” and asked the board to “find out how we can change it so we can live there legally.”

[Note: The county's interactive GIS mapping system show portions of Myers Flat designated as Conservation Flood Plain, and some areas as Industrial General, Agricultural Rural, and Commercial. Residences are not an allowed use in areas designated CFR unless they were grandfathered in.]

As requested at the last hearing, staff presented the board with some options for noticing the owners of properties with proposed changes of land use designation in time for the series of mapping hearings scheduled for March and April of 2014.

Staff gave the supervisors five options, including estimated costs. Option 1, which will cost nothing is to do the minimal noticing required by state law: posting notices of the meeting and placing legal notices in newspapers.

Option 5, on the other hand, would include not only the required legal notice but the more eye-catching newspaper display ads, and a direct mailing to all property owners whose land is slated for designation changes, whether those are merely name changes or will result in a change in entitlements such as allowed uses and development rights.

Option 5 would cost the county an estimated $38,000 and would be likely to add as much as four months to the time it will take to complete the GPU.

Not surprisingly, nearly all the public comment urged the board to take Option 5, although one person suggested Option 4, which would include direct mail notices only to those landowners whose designation change would mean a change in allowed uses or development rights.

A number of people suggested ways of reducing costs, such as hiring Humboldt State University interns, who are paid through programs at HSU, to help with the noticing process and to answer the public's questions.

Hamblin said there was no money in the planning department's budget for these notices, so the supervisors would need to allot additional funds to pay for noticing.

Sundberg noted that it would be worthwhile to spend $38,000 to avoid litigation, and chief administrative officer Phil Smith-Hanes agreed.

After all the money that has been spent on the GPU process, now in its 14th year, noticing all the landowners involved would be worthwhile even if there is no litigation, Smith-Hanes said, calling the expense a “targeted investment.” He felt there was enough money in the county's contingency fund to cover the amount needed.

Fennell suggested a cost-saving compromise, “Option 4.5,” which would include notices to all landowners with major changes, and listing all the properties with land use designation name changes only on the GPU website.

Hamblin agreed to bring back a revised option with estimated costs and a revised hearing schedule to the Dec. 16 hearing.

Next Monday, Dec. 16, the GPU hearing will begin at 1:30 p.m. in the supervisors' chambers at the county courthouse in Eureka. Agenda items include the remaining item in the Economic Development Element, the revised Public Guide and Governance Elements, the Mineral Resources chapter of the Open Space Element, and noticing for the mapping hearings.

Written comments of any length should be addressed to Kathy Hayes, Clerk of the Board, 825 Fifth Street, Eureka 95501, or they can be emailed to khayes@co.humboldt.ca.us. Comments sent to the clerk of the board will be included in the public record.