Board continues General Plan review; Planning Commission to focus on Housing Element

After the Humboldt County Planning Commission's controversial, two-month review of the General Plan's Conservation and Open Space Elements, the board of supervisors unanimously decided it was time to carry on.

Fifth District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg said with the commission failing to get through the 13 policy short list as had been instructed by board, the choice was clear.

"I do think it needs to come back to the board," Sundberg said. "We need to finish the process ourselves and keep moving forward."

The board previously voted 3-2 -- with 3rd District Supervisor Mark Lovelace and 2nd District Supervisor Estelle Fennell dissenting -- during its last General Plan meeting on Jan. 13 to send the elements back to the commission for 45-days of review. At its final special review meeting on Feb. 27, the commission voted to send a letter to the board asking it to "review the work completed and to give us further instruction."

About 34 public speakers addressed the board, with the majority voicing opposition to the commission's many proposed changes to the elements and occasionally criticizing board member's commission appointments.

Humboldt Baykeeper Policy Director Jennifer Kalt commented on the turnout, mainly caused by the commission's alteration of the element's goal of a countywide trail system.

"It's really fascinating for me to watch this process (of) the Planning Commission basically creating all these new activists," Kalt said. "... Please stop the Planning Commission review of the Open Space Element, bring it back to this board and continue on."

Local resident Ken Burton said that when reviewing the commission's recommendations, the board should also remember what the element is trying to protect.

"This is no time to be weakening environmental integrity," he said. "Please set a good example and think of it as your environment, not the environment."

Beth Frank of Arcata said the commission's review "has been a really unfortunate waste of time."

Mad River Alliance Director David Farrell of Blue Lake hinted at some of the commissioners' interests in property development influencing their votes.

"It seems like your planning commission has been stumbling over special interests," he said.

Dave Meserve of Arcata said that the majority of the changes were unnecessary and unwanted.

"There are a lot of us who have come out to say, 'Pass the general plan pretty much as it is, take it back from the Planning Commission and pass it," Meserve said.

Fourth District Supervisor Virginia Bass said that the process "has been a learning experience."

"I thought it would work," Bass said. "It didn't."

Fennell said that the commission should now focus on other tasks while the board continues its review.

"If we send a response back, thank them for their efforts, but urge them to take up the housing element," Fennell said.

Later in the meeting, the board unanimously voted to send the proposed language of the tribal land use designation of the plan's land use classification section to the eight tribal governments in the county.

With the board required under California Senate Bill 18 to consult with tribal governments when addressing any changes to tribal land use, Lovelace said that sending the proposed wording to tribal government would help determine if they have any additional recommendations other than those previously submitted.

"It would be helpful to circulate this draft to the tribes, schedule to meet with them collectively, and not in our chamber," Lovelace said.

The designation defines county jurisdiction in certain types of tribal lands such as tribal trust lands -- lands held in trust by the federal government for the tribe or its members -- and tribal fee lands -- non-tribal lands purchased by tribes that they can petition to become trust lands.

The board ended the discussion with a unanimous straw vote -- a non-binding vote -- to approve the language.

Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504 or whouston@times-standard.com

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