General Plan Rezoning Could Threaten Waterways

Map of the Blue Lake Community Planning Area (CPA) by John Miller, a Senior Planner with the Humboldt County Planning Department..
Map of the Blue Lake Community Planning Area (CPA) by John Miller, a Senior Planner with the Humboldt County Planning Department..

“UPROAR OVER REZONING” is how the November 7 edition of the Mad River Union described the contentious November 1 Humboldt County Planning Commission meeting. Both the public and some Planning Commission members were concerned that this final step in a 20-year-long process to update the County General Plan was being rushed.

Why the rush?  Some local residents feel it has something to do with the fact that after January 7, 2019 there will be two progressive votes on the county Board of Supervisors.

Approximately 25-30 people spoke against both the Mercer-Fraser landowner request and action to adopt consistent zoning to complete the General Plan. Of the two who spoke in support of Mercer-Fraser, one was an attorney representing Mercer-Fraser.

Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District Manager John Friedenbach testified that additional industrial uses near drinking water source wells on the Mad River would be inappropriate.  One must wonder why a majority of Planning Commission members seem intent on seeing this zoning adopted by the Board of Supervisors this month, when there is at least one more year available in the CA state guidelines for completing this process.

Don Allan of the Mad River Alliance expressed concerns over “bad land use planning” when allowing existing industrial use to determine future zoning. This is an important concept. Do the citizens of Humboldt County desire to let past bad planning continue to direct locations for future industrial expansion?

NEC Executive Director and Board President Larry Glass testified, “You have done a fine job of confusing the public!” In addition to the fact that most concerned citizens do not read local legal notices in the newspaper, the numerous revisions and changes to the General Plan proposals over the past 20 years have been difficult to follow. Many Willow Creek residents protested that there is no good way to look up the maps that are an important part of the zoning proposal. Residents of Blue Lake and Glendale stressed the need to protect area rivers (specifically, the Mad and Trinity), creeks and tributaries from the potentially massive increase in medium and heavy industrial development that the zone changes would allow. Allowing some industrial uses both in the floodplain and along the river banks is a bad idea.  The “streamside protection” mechanism described in the General Plan update appears to have no teeth and is badly flawed.

Regrettably, a five vote majority of the Planning Commission voted to recommend that the Board of Supervisors adopt revised zoning for all inland areas of the county (coastal areas are dealt with separately).

How can this happen? Well, there are several concerns with the massive changes coming our way, as over 500,000 acres of Humboldt County (currently considered “Unclassified”) will be rezoned.

In a large number of locations, the new zoning is proposed to be Agricultural Exclusive (AE) designation. There is also a separate but different Agriculture Exclusive (AE) “zone” that uses the identical term.  This dual use for two entirely different parts of the zoning process is particularly confusing to this writer.  If AE was “exclusively” agriculture it would not be too bad.  However, when you learn from county planning staff that both medium and heavy industry are allowable uses in the AE Designation areas and the AE zone, things become very murky.

Mr. John Miller and other planning staff have done a great job of patiently answering many questions on the phone, in personal visits to their office and, on at least one occasion, visiting residents in Willow Creek the last week of October.  However, the recommendation to go to the county website and use the GIS tool to look up specific parcels to determine what changes are being made has met with repeated failures of the GIS tool to function unless you have a high speed internet connection.  No one in Willow Creek indicated that they could use the GIS tool when asking the Planning Commission to delay immediate action on the zoning changes.  The GIS tool even crashed during the public meeting in Willow Creek according to testimony before the Planning Commission.

In fact, the GIS website was down for several days again the week of November 12.  This limits our ability to conduct the active involvement that Planning Commission Chairman Morris suggested during the November 1, 2018 discussion.

Chairman Morris and Ben Shepherd both encouraged members of local communities, specifically including Willow Creek, Glendale and Bluelake, to participate in a “Community Planning Area” (CPA).  There are existing lines on Community Planning Area maps for these communities.  However, when that CPA process was considered 15 or more years ago there was no continuity or draft plans developed.

Local residents are now working to seek a delay in zone change implementation within CPA boundaries. This would allow the CPAs for both Glendale and Blue Lake communities to develop a final Community Plan for zone designations.  Such a plan could place a high priority of supporting current agriculture uses in a zone that does not encourage conversion to industrial uses!

Take Action: Please plan on attending the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors meeting on December 11 to support good and consistent planning and help prevent our river banks and streamside habitats from being rezoned for extensive medium and heavy industrial development. The public notice for the December 11 meeting will not be final until Friday, December 7. Check the agenda to confirm the hearing date and time, as it is possible that the zoning topic may be delayed until the December 18 meeting.

For more information, please read the Board of Supervisors’ agenda when it is published (visit www.humboldtgov.org/167/Board-of-Supervisors) or contact the NEC at 707-822-6918. The NEC can also put you in touch with this author, Scott Frazer, if you have additional questions.

Alexa DeJohannis, President of the Redwood Region Audubon Society, submitted a critical letter in response outlining specific changes needed to improve the process and ability of the public to participate. The full text of the letter will be posted with this article on the NEC website.