In every election year, in every supervisor district that has a seat up for grabs, candidates promise that they’ll help create jobs and grow the local economy. For the most part, it’s a dubious promise, at least when it comes to private sector growth. Opportunities by the Board of Supervisors to help attract businesses and allow them to grow and expand are far and few between.
But now, following last week’s failure by the Humboldt County Planning Commission to recommend altering coastal zoning regulations, the Board of Supervisors has an opportunity to make a decision that will take vacant land and open it up for factories and other much-needed, job-boosting businesses.
Currently, land zoned industrial/coastal dependent can only be used by industries that, as the zoning name implies, are coastal dependent. Think big ships, barges or fishing boats. The businesses can’t just utilize maritime assets, they must be ancillary to the operations. Just using a ship a few times a year isn’t good enough.
Although there’s no doubt that Humboldt Bay needs to make sure there’s adequate land for coastal dependent businesses, the fact is that there’s not a lot of demand for such properties, most of which now sit vacant. Old warehouses rot in the salty air, the properties strewn with debris, creating no jobs, no wealth.
The Humboldt County Planning Commission had an opportunity April 21 to recommend changing the zoning to allow for non maritime-dependent uses on these properties on an interim basis.
The only real problem with the proposal was the provision that the use was “temporary.” If a business wants to locate on the peninsula, provide jobs and tax revenues, why make it temporary?
Of course, the whole premise behind not changing the zoning is the pipe dream that the railroad will return and Humboldt Bay will become a bustling port again. That’s highly unlikely to happen. There’s no need for a railroad. There’s nothing to ship.
There’s an irony in the commission’s decision. It wants to preserve the land for coastal-dependent uses with the idea that shipping and the railroad will return. But for shipping to return, the area needs major economic growth. The way to make this happen is to open up the properties to businesses – businesses of all kinds.
But that can’t happen with the shackles of this restrictive zoning, which was conceived during a different era, when pulp mills, sawmills and plywood factories were a going concern.
That era is over. It’s dead. Maybe someday Humboldt will have industries that support rail. Maybe in 20 or 50 years? While the county waits for this to happen, let’s put those properties to use.
Open up the land to new businesses, remove the restrictions, and allow industrial uses to blossom around the bay.
The ball is now in the hands of the Board of Supervisors. Will they allow economic growth, or will they tell businesses that they are not welcome?