Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – Humboldt County’s General Plan is still in a state of flux, as implementation of its zoning maps has inflamed division over land use and hinges on the outcomes of public meetings in multiple communities.
The ever-controversial process of approving land use changes took another turn at the Jan. 15 Board of Supervisors meeting. After a long, contentious hearing last month, county planners have developed a new strategy for implementing the General Plan’s zoning maps.
Planning Director John Ford said his staff will do extensive outreach to various communities where rezoning is controversial. These include McKinleyville, the Jacoby Creek/Freshwater area, the Fieldbrook/Glendale area, Blue Lake, Willow Creek and county areas that border cities.
The General Plan’s content has been reshaped after approvals before. The county’s Planning Commission adopted a version of it in 2012 after scores of public meetings were held.
When elections changed the make-up of the Board of Supervisors, groups who favored additional residential development entitlements successfully lobbied for a complete General Plan re-write.
The Humboldt Association of Realtors was one of them, and Tina Christensen, its lead representative, told supervisors that a re-do of the General Plan isn’t necessary now.
“To go back and recreate – I hope that is not what we are doing,” she said. She noted that “there was a process in place” and suggested that it would be questionable “to change that process now.”
She added, “We need to look into this, we need to have a voice in it – and we will.”
There is longstanding division between groups with real estate interests and those who lobby for environmental preservation.
Christensen prefaced her comments by saying, “Realtors do matter.” Earlier in the meeting, supervisors considered applicants for a Planning Commission seat and Supervisor Mike Wilson said he had doubts about one candidate because his preference isn’t “a political person from the real estate industry.”
Saying later that “it sounds like Tina may have been slightly offended by my comments related to real estate agents,” Wilson said he has no qualms with realtors but he described the Humboldt Association of Realtors as “political body” and added that Christensen had referred to it as a “property rights activist group.”
Board Chair Rex Bohn corrected him. “She said ‘property rights group,’ she didn’t say ‘activist,’” he said.
“Well they are,” Wilson continued.
“I want a clarification,” said Bohn.
“I am clarifying what I am saying, thank you,” Wilson rejoined.
He said that his comments intended to “clarify that we have a spectrum of voices on this.”
Bohn, who is generally viewed as development-friendly, noted the earlier public comment appearance of Tom Wheeler, the executive director of the Environmental Protection Information Center in responding to Wilson’s comments.
“Thomas from EPIC, I’m glad you’re here,” Bohn said, as members of the audience briefly sounded off in response. “I’m just saying, the last thing I want to do is, with the Humboldt [Association of] Realtors having 700 members, I do not want them to think they cannot come to speak because they will be biased against.”
He said public commenters “should be able to talk without getting a political backlog on why they’re here” and “I just think we need to be careful when we go on our political banters up here.”
Wilson said that his comments were merely made for the purpose of clarification.
The need for additional outreach stems from property owner concerns – not about the zoning on their parcels, but the changes mapped for adjoining properties.
A Fieldbrook resident told supervisors that she and her neighbors are concerned about allowing increased residential densities on nearby parcels owned by the Green Diamond timber company.
“That’s my back yard,” she said, calling the residential entitlements “an enormous gift” to the company that would “change the quality and character of our community if left unchecked.”
Ford told supervisors that the public outreach and rezoning hearing processes are expected to extend to the end of 2020.
Supervisors unanimously approved the General Plan outreach and rezoning approval strategy.
A few of the General Plan’s rezonings were approved to allow projects to proceed, including the Redway-based Redwoods Rural Health Center’s expansion of medical and dental facilities, and rezoning associated with a Save the Redwoods League project in Orick.
A third rezoning, of a property in the Fortuna area, didn’t gain unanimous approval. Wilson and Supervisor Steven Madrone voted against it. They said its residential category doesn’t promote public interest enough to place it ahead of similar projects in the queue.