Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – Humboldt County’s recently-updated General Plan is more controversial than ever and has hit a wall of opposition as the Board of Supervisors considers its implementation.
At a December 11 hearing, supervisors took up the rezoning of hundreds of thousands of parcels in accordance with the General Plan’s land use maps. The plan’s text and maps direct changes that include increasing residential densities and designating industrial uses.
Last month, the county’s Planning Commission recommended that the board approve most of the rezones and set aside a few controversial ones for community planning processes.
Explaining the commission’s reasoning, Senior Planner Michael Richardson outlined the public process that led to the General Plan’s approval. Between 2000 and 2015, it included 47 community workshops, 111 Planning Commission meetings and 75 Board of Supervisors meetings.
When Richardson said that the Planning Commission believes “the public has been heard,” including in the Glendale and Fieldbrook areas, the audience responded with a round of sarcastic laughter and jeers.
Earlier, Richardson told supervisors that the commission is “comfortable” with the public process. The audience again sounded off, this time with approval, when Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson said that although a majority vote was gained at the commission’s November hearing, it was “anything but comfortable.”
• Industrial impact: The Glendale and Fieldbrook communities are key participants, as rezoning is controversial there. One of the most contested rezones would accommodate the existing industrial activity of the Mercer-Fraser company in the Glendale area.
The rezone of that property was pulled and taken up separately, a move that side-tracked the hearing for hours.
A public comment period on the Mercer-Fraser rezone included opposition to it from multiple members of the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District board, its attorney, fisheries biologists, environmental advocates and several residents of the area.
They’re concerned that the Mercer-Fraser rezone – and several others in the Mad River watershed – are in flood plain areas and open the risks of drinking water and aquatic habitat impacts.
“The entitlements that you would be giving to change the zoning on these parcels today has not been fully addressed in the EIR for the General Plan,” said Jen Kalt of Humboldt Baykeeper.
• Pull-outs: Wilson had repeatedly asked that his district be removed from the mass of rezones for separate consideration. Fifth District Supervisor-elect Steven Madrone also questioned the process and asked that his district be pulled.
Madrone noted – as others had – that only landowners whose properties were affected by changes got heads-up from the county and neighbors weren’t notified of requests for changes advanced by landowners.
“So that really has an effect on community involvement -- they start feeling like their voice is not heard and it doesn’t matter,” he said.
• ‘Rabbit hole’: With the implications of the Mercer-Fraser rezone under intense scrutiny, supervisors struggled to arrive at a vote. The situation was summed up by Wilson, who said, “We’re going down a rabbit hole here.”
Supervisors got out of it by voting to bump the rezone to a future hearing. Wilson cast a dissent vote, saying that the process is flawed.
After a break, public comment on the bulk of the rezones began.
Judy Hodgson, a Fieldbrook resident who is publisher of the North Coast Journal, reiterated that land use changes were made without notification to neighboring property owners and lacked reference to community plans.
“It’s too late to do anything about it because it is now part of this General Plan that you’ve adopted and I’m really upset about it and we’re extremely disappointed in our supervisor for facilitating it,” she said.
Residents of McKinleyville, Blue Lake and Willow Creek and members of the Mad River Alliance also called for more outreach.
‘Do the outreach’: McKinleyville resident Ron Coffman told supervisors that an “emergency meeting” of the McKinleyville Community Advisory Committee on the rezones was scheduled for the previous week but cancelled due to lack of a quorum.
The intent of the special meeting was to tap residents’ opinions on the rezoning, which includes designating the McKinleyville Shopping Center area – dubbed the McKinleyville Town Center in the local community plan -- as a combination zone made up of residential and commercial uses.
“I would ask you to delay this vote today and do the public outreach,” Coffman said, adding that rezones of Green Diamond Timber Company properties “jump completely past what our stated goals for the east side of McKinleyville are … that’s a discussion that McKinleyville deserves to have.”
Madrone said the Planning Commission’s deliberations were “not impartial” due to Commission Chair Bob Morris’ property interests and he pushed for taking more time to draw public involvement.
Planning Director John Ford confirmed that the county has two years to implement the rezones.
The county will continue to balance the concerns as General Plan implementation takes what’s shaping up to be a longer track. Supervisors voted to have planning staff return on January 15 with a new strategy for proceeding with the rezones.