The Humboldt County Planning Commission voted 5-2 to move forward with zoning changes that will be consistent with the General Plan Update during a contentious meeting Thursday evening.
But the vote did not come before more than an hour of public comment from residents and local groups, calling for more outreach and education to the community and concerns about the potential for cannabis being permitted in Willow Creek and Glendale areas.
It also did not come before a warning from Supervisor-Elect Steve Madrone.
“Any commissioners that have real estate interests that would be benefiting from these zoning changes here tonight needs to recuse themselves under conflict of interest rules,” he told the board more than three hours into the meeting. “… You will proceed at your own peril.”
At least one commissioner, 5th District Commissioner Ben Shepherd, voted in favor of the zoning changes and announced he did not have properties that would benefit from the changes.
The most contentious parts of the meeting centered around concerns from Willow Creek and Glendale area residents who worried more cannabis processing or manufacturing would occur near local homes or schools. Of primary concern was that Mercer-Fraser properties would be given the go-ahead for those types of activities.
But the commission did not vote on the changes requested by individual property owners — including those owned by Mercer-Fraser — at Thursday night’s meeting. Planners instead recommended that local community planning take place to discuss specific areas and those plans could later be incorporated in the General Plan.
“Basically, they will come back as a part of a community plan area,” Humboldt County Planning Director John Ford said Monday afternoon. “The recommendation staff had in the original proposal is what the planning commission acted on.”
On Monday, Madrone said “it wouldn’t take much investigation” to find out who owned properties that were conceivably going to benefit from zoning changes.
“It doesn’t make you a bad person to have a conflict,” he said. “It’s just that you are supposed to recuse yourself.”
He added that several of the constituents he will be serving as the 5th District supervisor thanked him for speaking out on their behalf.
“Many constituents in my district have thanked me for standing up,” Madrone said. “The fact is this process is being rushed. Anybody paying attention can see that. There is no need to rush it.”
Ford noted that the recusal aspect in the case of zoning could affect anyone locally.
“Conceivably, everybody in Humboldt County could be benefiting by zoning changes,” he said.
Ruth Schneider can be reached at 707-441-0520.