By Daniel Mintz
The role of a General Plan Update stakeholders group is continuing to gain definition, as its representatives have said that workloads will probably be streamlined and a facilitator may be hired to guide their meetings.
The ad hoc group is working with the Board of Supervisors to review the Planning Commission’s draft of the update. Formed last November, the group has just finished its first piece of work, editing policies in the update’s relatively non-controversial Circulation Element.
The group’s future has been described as uncertain but at a Jan. 14 update hearing, Bob Higgons, one of its representatives, told supervisors that most of its members want to work on other elements.
Fourteen elements remain but Higgons said the group is considering a focus on the controversial ones and insight’s been gained from what’s been done so far.
“We’re learning each other’s thinking patterns, we’re learning how to operate within a collaborative process – that took a little bit of time,” he said, adding that the “learning curve is not as steep” now.
“I think that means that future element review could go faster,” said Higgons.
Supervisors strongly encouraged the group to continue its work, with Supervisor Estelle Fennell describing it as “invaluable” and Supervisor Virginia Bass crediting it for being a “refinement of the process.”
Board Chairman Ryan Sundberg also praised the group and said he’d heard that it’s seeking help with administration of its meetings. Connie Stewart of the California Center for Rural Policy (CCRP) is a leading member of the group and she said that no public funding or help from the county is being sought.
Stewart’s agency and the Humboldt Area Foundation (HAF) have been involved in moderating the ad hoc group’s meetings but a private facilitator seems to be needed. “At the pace we’re going, it’s been hard for HAF and CCRP to keep up,” Stewart said. “We’ll figure out how to bring somebody else in and figure out, privately, how to raise the funding for it.”
One challenge is determining “who the group will feel comfortable with, having as an additional facilitator,” said Stewart.
After supervisors reviewed some of the group’s recommendations and planning staff’s comments on them, they asked Jen Rice of the HAF, another stakeholders representative, about scheduling future hearings.
Rice said the group supports moving at “a clip,” and future work will be tailored to the board’s bi-weekly update hearing schedule. Controversial elements will be prioritized, she added, “So it may be that there are some elements that we don’t need to take time to address.”
Winnowing the workload will give the group time to “get into a click with staff,” said Rice, as rushing to keep pace on the Circulation Element “wasn’t optimal for anyone.”
The goal is to enhance communication with staff and “give everyone more lead time, public and board, for review,” Rice continued.
The ad hoc group’s main recommendations for the Circulation Element include creation of a countywide transportation plan outside of the update and adjusting roadway and transportation infrastructure design to neighborhood standards.
Other circulation policies aim to reduce auto congestion by locating residential and commercial areas close to each other and increasing public transit opportunities.
Supervisors will hold the next update hearing on Jan. 28, to continue work on the Circulation Element and possibly begin work on the Economic Development section.