Mad River Union
McKINLEYVILLE – McKinleyville is wrestling with how it can give residents a voice in land use decisions, while at the same time not creating additional expenses and bureaucracy.
The McKinleyville Municipal Advisory Committee (McKMAC) held an in-depth discussion on the topic at its Aug. 29 meeting, with members debating the pros and cons of allowing the committee to weigh in on projects such as the controversial Dollar General store planned for the southwest corner of Murray Road and McKinleyville Avenue.
As an unincorporated community, McKinleyville doesn’t have its own locally controlled planning commission. It relies on the Humboldt County Planning Commission. And while the McKMAC was created to give the town a stronger voice, it is limited in what it is allowed to comment on in its rules and regulations, which are dictated by the Board of Supervisors.
The McKMAC is allowed to comment on matters of public health, safety, welfare and public works in the McKinleyville area. It can also comment on zoning amendments, general plan petitions and amendments, and long-range planning issues.
However, the McKMAC’s charter specifically prohibits the committee from reviewing or commenting on subdivisions, conditional use permits, special permits, coastal development permits and variances.
‘I feel like window dressing’
McKMAC member Craig Tucker said the rules prohibit the committee from commenting on what are some of the most important issues in McKinleyville.
“We can’t even send a letter to the planning commission giving our two cents on a subdivision,” Tucker said at last week’s meeting. “I think we should have the ability for McKinleyville to weigh in on the process.”
“It’s almost like I feel like window dressing sometimes,” said Tucker, who clarified that he wasn’t asking for the committee to act as a planning commission; he just wants the committee to have the ability to comment.
Ben Shepherd explained the history of how the McKMAC was created, and why its ability to comment on projects is restricted.
Creation of the McKMAC was called for in the town’s growth blueprint, the McKinleyville Community Plan, which was developed in the 1990s and approved by the Board of Supervisors in 2001.
During the development of the plan, Shepherd said he advocated for an area planning commission for McKinleyville. That was rejected due to concerns about costs, and instead the plan called for the creation of the McKMAC.
But it wasn’t until 2012, more than a decade after the plan’s approval, that the Board of Supervisors created the committee at the urging of Fifth District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg.
One of the concerns was how much money the committee would cost the county. Shepherd said that the county was concerned that the McKMAC, and the now-defunct Greater Eureka Area Municipal Advisory Committee created at the same time, would require a massive amount of Humboldt County Planning staff if it weighed in on subdivisions and conditional use permits.
If the McKMAC were to take a position on a permit or other planning issue, members would need to be provided with project packets and have professional planning staff available to explain the packets to them, Shepherd said. But planning staff is already overwhelmed processing nearly 2,000 cannabis grow permits.
Shepherd, who also serves on the Humboldt County Planning Commission, said that having professional staff at the meetings would be important in making sure the hearing was fair for the applicant and that committee members were fully educated before making comments.
But staffing would be a major expense, which is something county leaders did not want to incur, so they limited the McKMAC’s scope, Shepherd explained.
‘Feels kind of lame’
But Tucker disagreed that planning staff would always be needed at McKMAC meetings if projects are discussed, citing the committee’s unanimous endorsement that evening of Measure O, a half-cent sales tax for public safety on the Nov. 6 ballot.
“We just approved endorsing Measure O and I didn’t get a staff presentation, I didn’t see any polling data, I didn’t see economic data. I made a decision based on information in front of me,” Tucker said.
“Yeah, but we’re not impacting a person or a project,” responded McKMAC member Greg Orsini.
“I don’t see us weighing in on every single project,” Tucker said, “but sometimes something comes along that‘s a hot-button issue for the community.”
Tucker lamented that there are times when people attend McKMAC meetings to complain about a project, but there’s nothing the McKMAC can do.
“We’ve had meetings with a lot of people in here complaining about a project, and we’re like ‘sorry, we’re not the right guy.’ We can’t even send a letter to the county supervisors or to the planning commission reflecting what we heard here... because we don’t have that authority. It feels kind of lame. It feels like we’re toothless,” Tucker said.
McKMAC member Kevin Dreyer suggested that some flexibility on what the committee can comment on would be desirable. But, Dreyer said, “I would definitely not want us to be another level of discretion on any kind of permit, subdivision, project or any of that. That’s just too onerous.”
McKMAC Chair John Corbett suggested a middle ground, with a language change to the rules that allows some more flexibility.
“Let’s go with the ambiguity,” said Corbett, who didn’t suggest any specific language changes to the rules and said the discussion should be ongoing.
The committee will continue the discussion at upcoming meetings. It has the option of asking the Board of Supervisors to change its rules.
City of McKinleyville?
Fifth District Supervisor-elect Steven Madrone, who in January will take over the seat now held by Ryan Sundberg, said he appreciated that Shepherd had advocated for an area planning commission for McKinleyville.
“I think that, and what John and everybody else is saying... is a very strong recognition that the community is frustrated over our lack of ability to control their destiny and have some impact on planning,” Madrone said.
Madrone said he wants to take a look at incorporating McKinleyville when he takes office.
“I intend, as your future supervisor come January, to work with this group and the MCSD to put on an informational meeting to really delve into the micro-details of incorporation,” Madrone said.
He also said he wants to work with the Board of Supervisors to have county department heads track cost and revenues specific to the McKinleyville area. These numbers would help determine whether McKinleyville is getting its fair share of services.