‘Winner take all’ politics? Supervisors want to change general plan’s main goals

Further reflecting a political turnover that’s changing the direction of county planning policies, a majority of the Board of Supervisors is supporting a rewrite of the General Plan Update’s statements of intent.
Known as the Guiding Principles, the update’s goal statements explain what the plan is trying to accomplish, based on community values. But defining community values in Humboldt County is a divisive task and the board’s June 3 update hearing drew the biggest audience since supervisors began their review of the draft update last year.
The audience was there to debate the validity of a re-written set of Guiding Principles, as proposed by Supervisor Estelle Fennell, the former executive director of the Humboldt Coalition for Property Rights, and Supervisor Rex Bohn.
The original statements were approved by the county’s Planning Commission in 2008, after years of public hearings. They recommend focusing development in areas with water and sewer service, shielding habitat and protecting farmland and timberlands with mechanisms such as “increased restrictions on resource land subdivisions and patent parcel development.”
Fennell’s and Bohn’s rewritten principles remove mention of focused development and instead recommend support for “scientifically proven alternative waste management systems in areas not served by public sewer.” The references to restrictions are also removed.
The new principles also call for encouragement and incentives for “agriculture, timber and compatible uses on resource lands.” The principle that calls for “protection of natural resources,” including open space, water quality and salmonid habitat is replaced by a Fennell/Bohn version asking that the county “honor landowners’ right to live in urban, suburban, rural or remote areas of the county while using a balanced approach to protect natural resources.”
Dozens of people spoke for and against the rewrites during a public comment session. Several people asked for more time and more opportunity for public comment on them.
Hezekiah Allen of the Mattole Restoration Council said more public discussion is necessary to develop statements that are balanced.
“I don’t appreciate the ‘winner take all’ political culture,” he continued, referring to recent election victories that tilted the board’s ideological make-up to the property rights and pro-development side.
But Fieldbrook resident Monte Provolt said the original principles set the stage for heavy-handed restrictions. “The current version is negative and has oppressive overtones,” he told supervisors. “It is an outright attack on the rural lifestyle.”
Using a PowerPoint display, Supervisor Mark Lovelace described how the county held 37 public meetings to shape the original principles. He said that if the principles are rewritten, an “equally robust” public process should happen.
Some people have accused the county’s Planning Department of giving more weight to commenters who lobbied for increased environmental protections and Bohn said county planners had a “preconceived idea” of the update’s contents.
Fennell read the preamble of the Guiding Principles section aloud, saying her rewrites reflect it accurately. But Lovelace, who like Fennell was paid to participate in the GPU process as a lobbyist before being elected, said the new principles use vague words to sidestep environmental issues.
“Taken as a whole, what they do is say that we’re happy to have a vision but when it comes right down to it, we don’t want to have anything in here that actually guides us towards that vision,” he continued, adding that the new principles aim to “remove anything that actually directs what happens with this general plan and make it non-specific.”
Fennell said the rewrites actually move toward consensus and express “an appreciation of all of the input that has come before me and an appreciation of some of the concerns that have been raised that, in my view, were not addressed.”
Those concerns include “The idea of discouraging rural living through severe restrictions” and “encouraging in-fill,” Fennell continued.
In response to public comments, Fennell and Bohn agreed to re-insert mention of salmonid habitat in the rewritten principle on the “balanced approach to protect natural resources” and to maintain the word “preserve” in one on the county’s character and quality of life.
In a non-binding straw vote, with Lovelace dissenting, the rewritten Guiding Principles were approved.

2 thoughts on “‘Winner take all’ politics? Supervisors want to change general plan’s main goals

  1. Mark would say that. There was a huge amount of input by the residents here that want jobs and growth while balancing environmental concerns that were ignored starting 10+ years ago; what with all of the “selective invitational” public outreach done by the no growth staff, NEC and their friends (sometimes including the local one sided press). Of course Mark is not happy – back can be unpleasant.

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