GPU: Major Change for Infrastructure Element

In what’s been described by county planners as a major revision to the draft General Plan Update, nine implementation measures of the Infrastructure Element are proposed to be blended into a single and less binding directive.

An ongoing trend of changing the Planning Commission-approved version of the update continued at an April 21 Board of Supervisors hearing. County Planner John Miller told supervisors that since most of them support altering policies that establish minimum levels of service and requirements for new development, several related implementation measures will be rendered inconsistent.

The affected implementation measures include those that call for fiscal impact studies, developer impact fees and formation of infrastructure tax districts under the state’s Mello-Roos Community Facilities Act.

Those measures are unpopular among developers and responding to comments from the board majority at a previous update hearing, Miller proposed blending all the measures into a more general one.

It loosely calls for consideration of funding sources and specifies that they’ll be pursued “as directed by the Board of Supervisors.”

An ad-hoc stakeholders group has been making recommendations on update policies, often with split opinions. McKinleyville resident Ben Shepherd, a member of the group and part of its developer contingent, told supervisors the combo measure is a “great idea,” as the implementation measures it replaces were “very specific” and “not appropriate for Humboldt County.”

Jen Kalt, another member of the ad hoc group who represents environmental interests, clarified that the stakeholders haven’t considered the proposal and she had no comment on it.

The new measure was presented to supervisors by staff without advance notice, a situation that has been controversial in the past. Apparently alluding to that, Supervisor Estelle Fennell, who was executive director of the Humboldt Coalition for Property Rights before being elected, said her initial reaction to the proposal was to think that “they’re springing surprises on us” but she described the surprise as a pleasant one.

“I think this reflects that staff has been listening to the concerns that have been expressed and to make things clear and simple,” Fennell continued. She said the new measure covers the ones it replaces “quite nicely.”

County Planning Director Kevin Hamblin described the measure as one that allows flexibility. “This is not meant to limit any option that the Board of Supervisors may have, even those that now appear to be burdensome would still be allowed as tools, but aren’t mentioned or called out specifically,” he said.

Methods of funding service and infrastructure expansions would be determined at the time projects are being reviewed and would be “based on the desire of the developer” and subject to board approval, Hamblin continued.

Supervisor Rex Bohn said implementation measures like formation of Mello-Roos districts are “burdensome” and won’t work in Humboldt County. He said the composite measure will “answer some of my peeps’s concerns.”

Supervisor Mark Lovelace has been the lone dissenter on previous straw votes in favor of changing the element’s policies. He said the new measure is “generic” and some of the measures it replaces aren’t related to development projects, such as one that calls for a countywide study on impact fees.

Since the combined implementation measure was unveiled at the hearing, supervisors heeded a staff recommendation to hold off on straw-voting it to allow time for public review and response.

Aside from that and items that will be modified by staff and returned, supervisors finished their review of the element and will begin work on the draft safety and air quality elements at a May 6 hearing.