Death threats over guiding principle rewrites

County supervisors have decided to hold another public hearing on their revisions to the General Plan Update’s guiding principles, a red hot issue that’s drawing strong reactions – including death threats.

Opposition to the revisions emerged again at a June 17 update hearing and supervisors emphasized that they’re not final and another hearing will be held on them.

Supervisor Virginia Bass said she’s fielded a lot of communication about the rewrites and while most of it has been civil, a few responses have been extreme to the point of being terroristic.

“As you can imaging we’re getting all sorts of interesting e-mails and there are some threats that you can seriously term as death threats,” she said. “People might be laughing about it but it’s not a laughing matter, especially if the sheriff ends up at someone’s door.”

Bass added that the threatening responses are in the minority and she’s having constructive meetings with people who disagree with the revisions.

Board Chairman Ryan Sundberg stressed that the June 3 vote on the revisions was non-binding and the floor’s always open for more input. “If you have concerns, it’s definitely a lot more constructive to just talk to us rather than threatening our lives,” he said. “That’s probably not the best way to make those changes happen.”

The revised guiding principles affect 10 of the 12 original versions and the most notable changes include eliminating mention of urban in-fill and striking a recommendation for “increased restrictions” to protect farmland and timberland.

A principle that seeks protection of natural resources is rewritten as one that calls on the county to “honor landowners’ rights” to live in all areas of the county while “balancing” natural resource protection. Another rewrite replaces a call for discouraging conversion of open space and resource lands with an allowance for rural residential development served by “alternative waste management systems.”

Supervisor Estelle Fennell, the former executive director of the Humboldt Coalition for Property Rights, is the primary author of the rewrites and has been criticized for releasing them only three days before they were approved in the non-binding straw vote.

Before Fennell told audience members that the vote isn’t final and the rewrites will get another public airing, she talked about the reaction to them. “I do not appreciate the negativity that’s been stirred around in the community – I think it’s appalling and not constructive in any way, shape or form,” she said.

But Fennell added that the “flurry of attention” over the rewrites also has constructive elements and having another public meeting on them “would be very beneficial.” A date for another hearing will be set and Fennell said she’d “like to give people plenty of time to think it through.”

She had made copies of the original and rewritten guiding principles and handed them to the board’s clerk for distribution among audience members.

Supervisor Mark Lovelace is the only supervisor who objected to the rewrites. He said that if the guiding principles are to be changed, the revisions should go through a similar process that produced the originals.

“The guiding principles that have driven this plan weren’t developed by the Board of Supervisors, they were developed by the people of Humboldt County through an extensive series of workshops and meetings all across the county over many years,” Lovelace continued, stirring applause.

He said a series of outreach meetings should be done but Sundberg disagreed. People will have “plenty of time to e-mail us and stop us in the grocery store” before the revisions are definitively approved at the end of the update process, he said.

The issue was also talked about during the public comment session of the June 18 regular board meeting, where a representative of the county’s League of Women Voters chapter told supervisors that their revision of the principles is one of a series of decisions that suggest “the appearance of behind the scenes maneuvering.”

Fennell said such conclusions are the result of “a lot of misinformation going around.”