Supervisors Water Down Forest Protection Language

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union Correspondent

HUMBOLDT – The Board of Supervisors has finished re-editing the General Plan Update’s guiding principles and they are probably even more controversial now.

In an occasionally uncomfortable and sometimes caustic Oct. 7 hearing, supervisors continued wordsmithing the principles they had revised last June. Their initial changes generated strong public reaction, with the removal of language on discouraging resource land subdivision and protecting farmlands and timberlands drawing the hottest objections.

Mark Lovelace

Mark Lovelace

Last week’s hearing was continued from one held in late September, where compromise was the theme. Saying they wanted to achieve consensus, supervisors had re-inserted the anti-conversion language into a guiding principle on controlling development impacts.

They had also re-inserted language on focusing development in areas that have water and sewer infrastructure, creating a wordy but consensus-driven guiding principal statement.

During last week’s public comment session, representatives of developer and landowner groups recommended taking the language out again. In explaining her support for doing that, Supervisor Virginia Bass referenced an Oct. 2 letter from the Arcata City Council which states that the board’s previous decisions on allowing principally-permitted houses and second housing units on timber production lands is inconsistent with discouraging conversion.

Bass said she has also heard feedback from “various parts of the community” on it and recommended the re-editing. She advised striking the conversion and focused development references.

It would be clearer to simply state that development should be “consistent with land use maps contained in the General Plan,” she continued. The update’s mapping will be one of the board’s final chunks of work.

Bass’ proposal drew support from the board majority, but Supervisor Mark Lovelace strongly dissented. “I’m totally mystified on how this is supposed to address the City of Arcata’s concerns,” he said.

Board Chairman Ryan Sundberg said he “doesn’t agree with their concerns” but he also said the editing is necessary to avoid the alleged inconsistency. “I don’t know how that’s mystifying,” he continued.

Lovelace persisted and, explaining that he had prepared a PowerPoint presentation in case it was needed, he referred to a November 2003 survey done by the county’s Farm Bureau.

Projecting graphics, Lovelace reviewed the results: of 306 survey responses from agricultural producers, 92 percent agreed that high prices made it difficult to purchase or lease farm lands and 84 percent agreed that residential development reduced the amount of land available for ag production.

Supervisor Rex Bohn said he has heard otherwise. He said his preference to remove the part about discouraging conversion is shaped by conversations he’d had with agricultural producers in Ferndale and Fortuna.

He described “discourage” as “the word they didn’t like because we discourage everything when they get to the counter and that’s the thing they’re trying to change.”

Supervisor Mark Lovelace strongly dissented. “I’m totally mystified on how this is supposed to address the City of Arcata’s concerns,” he said.

Bohn also said that he does not want the county “to discourage anybody on what they do with their personal property rights.”

The debate was long and wide-ranging, with many land use-related issues probed, including the proliferation of marijuana farms. Their environmental impacts had been described as the “elephant in the room” during public comment and Bohn reiterated that. He said pot growers are causing environmental problems and are the ones who should be reined in.

But Lovelace countered that the “elephant in the room is land use.” He pointed out that breaking up large parcels into smaller ones is what has enabled marijuana farms and related it to Arcata’s concerns about the fate of its surrounding timberlands.

Lovelace was the only supervisor to vote against removing the language on resource land conversion and focused development. It would be the first of a series of 4-1 votes on the remaining guiding principles.

Tension escalated as Sundberg urged a vote on approving a principle that removed a reference to protecting timber and farm lands by increasing restrictions on subdivisions.

Lovelace said that the votes were erasing the apparent consensus achieved at the previous hearing and questioned why supervisors were not willing to make a statement against subdividing resource lands.

“Because you can say it in more than one way,” said a clearly annoyed Sundberg. “Just because we don’t say it your way, we get a lecture for a few minutes.”

The majority-approved principle recommends that the county “encourage, incentivize and support agriculture, timber, ecosystem services and compatible uses on resource lands.”

Another 4-1 vote was seen when the board majority approved eliminating a principle that calls for “actionable plans for infrastructure financing and construction.”

Sundberg said other language on cooperating with service providers covers the issue and “from everything that I know, ‘actionable plans’ is about developers fees.”

Public comment was taken throughout the hearing and demonstrated that after multiple edits and re-edits, the guiding principles are as divisive as ever. Representatives of developers’ and realtors’ groups left the hearing largely satisfied and environmentalists were bitterly disappointed.

The board’s review of the update continues on Monday, Oct. 21, when work resumes on the economic development section.

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