Letters to the Editor, March 18, 2020

People power prevailed

On March 5, at the Humboldt County Planning Commission Hearing, the commission addressed a permit application for a five-acre cannabis grow in The Warren Creek Road neighborhood which was opposed by the overwhelming majority of our neighborhood. 

We are a community of many different occupations and ages. Yet we all live harmoniously and look out for each other. The recent coming together of our community to unite in our opposition to the proposed grow was a demonstration of our solidarity and care for each other and our land. We had 42 neighbors sign our opposition petition and 20 who made statements addressing their concerns. 

Commissioners heard from numerous people about multiple incidents of unnecessarily aggressive and disruptive behavior on the part of tenants and the owner of the property that have continued until the present. It is not surprising that there is little trust within the community that the owner and manager would keep the commitments made in the permit application or conduct their activities in a responsible manner.

It is a fact that cannabis cultivation is legal in California and that the state and county have developed a rather robust permitting process to regulate it. However, policies to address the multiple problems that arise from the residential grow operation interface have not been adequately developed. 

In addition, follow up enforcement of the existing regulations remains weak and intermittent. Chances are these issues will be addressed sometime in the near future. Neighborhood communities such as ours are hoping they don’t have to suffer the negative consequences in the meantime.

On behalf of the Warren Creek Road community, we would like to express our appreciation for the coverage of this issue by the Mad River Union. In addition, we also want to thank Planning Commissioners Noah Levy, Mike Newman, and Alan Bongio for their vote denying the permit in favor of the health, safety, and welfare of our community. 

Mike Zeppegno and Kathleen Lee

Pass the gas, go electric 

The City of Arcata has been a leader in reducing our local contribution to climate change. Solar panels gleam atop the city’s Marsh Interpretive Center, a carbon-neutral building. City engineers swap aging gas furnaces in city buildings for high efficiency electric heat pumps. The City Council recently declared a climate emergency, recognizing a reality still eluding many in power.

 Now, Arcata’s City Council has another chance for climate leadership by requiring that new buildings use only electricity, not natural gas. Electricity would power new, efficient technologies — heat pumps, for example, and induction cooktops. (Heat pumps work like air conditioners, except exactly the opposite, warming air or water. Induction stoves produce no heat and cook food through electromagnetism.)

The result would be new folks living or working in Arcata with little or no increase in climate changing emissions.

Electricity became Humboldt’s climate-friendly energy choice this past January when a state law took effect. The law requires that new houses and most new apartments have solar panels. Of course the sun doesn’t shine at night, and the law doesn’t cover commercial buildings at all, so supplemental energy will be needed. But the Redwood Coast Energy Authority, where most of Humboldt gets its electricity, steers clear of fossil fuel power. Customers will get power both from the sun and from other non-fossil sources — a win for the climate.

 Eliminating gas from new buildings would have other benefits for the climate. Simply beginning the move away from natural gas is key. As it stands now, most of us are hooked on natural gas for at least some appliances. Every time we light the stove or turn on a gas furnace we release CO2. No matter how green our values, our buildings are engines of climate change. As people see that low-carbon electric appliances are as convenient as their gassy equivalents, we’ll start swapping old furnaces and gas ranges for heat pumps and induction stoves.

 We’ll save money, too. Annual costs of all-electric houses using heat pumps run $130 to $540 less than houses using natural gas.

Gas rates will only go up over time. Many gas pipelines, long ignored by utilities, are old and ridden with dangerous leaks. A blast in the Bay Area killed eight people in 2010. A leak in Southern California required the evacuation of 11,296 residents for five months in 2016.

Estimates of leaks range from 8 to 13 million tons of gas (yes, millions of tons of gas!) each year in the U.S. The huge price of repairing leaky lines will get passed on to customers. People who are financially well off will switch to electric appliances on their own. Those not so well off will be that much poorer. 

Since most new housing built in Arcata serves students and low- to moderate-income folks, doesn’t it make sense to start the switch now and not add to the problems of our more vulnerable residents?

 Switching from natural gas has other advantages, too. When we turn on the gas range, we’re blithely unaware of where that gas comes from. Often it’s drilled practically next door to someone’s house, the local hospital, or the school their kids go to. Air and water pollution are big problems.

 Those gas wells are usually hundreds of miles from Humboldt — 90 percent from out of state. The growing spiderweb of gas pipelines crosses rivers, forests, and farms, skirts neighborhoods, and teeters above earthquake faults. These pipelines, like the Jordan Cove pipeline proposed to cross Oregon ending at Coos Bay, are life changers to thousands of their neighbors.

Of course, switching away from gas requires reliable electricity. Last fall’s power shut-offs created havoc and gave electricity a bad name. However, PG&E execs recently told County Supervisor Rex Bohn that they’re making changes and they “all but” guarantee there won’t be a repeat performance.

And as many folks ruefully found out, current model furnaces and gas ranges usually require electricity as well. Let’s not allow PG&E’s ineptitude to stop us from taking an important step for a liveable climate.

Arcata plays a tiny role in these problems; Arcata’s new buildings, an even tinier one. But the city has company here. Twenty-three other cities and counties in California have enacted similar gas bans just since last July, including Windsor, Santa Rosa, and Healdsburg. Arcata would be the first north of Sonoma County and could lead other Humboldt communities in the same direction. Then we’d really be making a difference. 

So let’s get started!

Patrick Carr



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