Humboldt County’s recently-updated General Plan is more controversial than ever and has hit a wall of opposition as the Board of Supervisors considers its implementation. 

 

At a December 11 hearing, supervisors took up the rezoning of hundreds of thousands of parcels in accordance with the General Plan’s land use maps. The plan’s text and maps direct changes that include increasing residential densities and designating industrial uses. 

 

Last month, the county’s Planning Commission recommended that the board approve most of the rezones and set aside a few controversial ones for community planning processes. 

 

Explaining the commission’s reasoning, Senior Planner Michael Richardson outlined the public process that led to the General Plan’s approval. Between 2000 and 2015, it included 47 community workshops, 111 Planning Commission meetings and 75 Board of Supervisors meetings. 

 

When Richardson said that the Planning Commission believes “the public has been heard,” including in the Glendale and Fieldbrook areas, the audience responded with a round of sarcastic laughter and jeers. 

 

Earlier, Richardson told supervisors that the commission is “comfortable” with the public process. The audience again sounded off, this time with approval, when Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson said that although a majority vote was gained at the commission’s November hearing, it was “anything but comfortable.” 

 

“The entitlements that you would be giving to change the zoning on these parcels today has not been fully addressed in the EIR for the General Plan,” said Jen Kalt of Humboldt Baykeeper. 

 

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Many questions unanswered about ordinance that would rezone 500K acres of Humboldt

Shortly after the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors convenes in the New Year, it will face a massive and controversial package of zoning changes that will bring new land use designations to almost 500,000 acres throughout the county, after board discussions on the matter stalled Dec. 11.

 

That meeting saw more than 50 members of the public speak in opposition to the proposal, discussion of which began at 10:30 a.m. and stretched into the midafternoon, with only a 15-minute break. Much of that time was spent discussing changes to a single set of parcels on the banks of the Mad River close to the intake wells of the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District. But other areas of contention arose, as well.

 

Clearly frustrated with some of the public comment, some of the supervisors said that the proposed land use designation changes had already been made last October when the board approved the county's General Plan Update. The proposed zoning changes are a formality, they said. Judging from their comments, the public wasn't buying it.

 

By 10 a.m., the supervisors chamber was packed with a long line of people standing in the back and extending out the door. Even four and a half hours into the meeting, the room remained half full.

 

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The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association has filed a lawsuit against 30 leading fossil fuel industry and leading oil companies, including Exxon Mobil and Chevron, citing links between the use of fossil fuels for combustion and warming ocean temperatures that has led to increased level of naturally occurring neurotoxins in the crab, specifically domoic acid.

 

“I’m pleased to see lawsuits like this moving forward because for decades the fossil fuel industry has been wrecking the planet and wrecking the oceans and impacting the fishing industry,” said North Coast Congressman Jared Huffman. “Just like with the cigarette companies, who were held accountable for their actions, and just like the auto industry was held accountable for building exploding Pintos, it’s time to bring the same accountability to the oil industry.”

 

“I’m no oceanographer, but it’s pretty clear the ocean conditions are being exacerbated by our actions and those changing ocean conditions have been going on for some time,” said Jen Kalt, director of Humboldt Baykeeper. “I hope the goal is to recognize that it’s not an abstract concept, the fossil fuel industry is destroying people’s livelihoods, people who rely upon the ocean to support their families and to feed others.”

 

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In a hearing that included accusations, audience interruptions and cross-talking, county planning commissioners found that implementing the county’s updated General Plan won’t be easy.

At their Nov. 1 meeting, they reviewed the General Plan’s variety of rezonings along with a controversial “matrix” of landowner requests. The less controversial rezonings were recommended for approval, while others were recommended to be set aside for further community input.

The controversy is mostly in the Blue Lake/Glendale and Willow Creek areas. Residents said they’re blindsided by the changes and asked for more public notice and involvement.

A rezoning for the Mercer-Fraser Company’s 13.5 acre Glendale area site bordering the Mad River is one of the high-profile requests. The rezoning was included in the company’s proposal to operate a 5,000-square-foot cannabis manufacturing facility at the site.

Also included in the landowner request matrix are changes to properties owned by the Green Diamond Resource Company.

Speaking as a McKinleyville resident, Jen Kalt of Humboldt Baykeeper said the company’s requested changes include a 400-acre property just east of McKinleyville that’s being considered for use as a community forest.

Changing the zoning to allow five-acre minimum parcels would have “a huge environmental impact that has not been addressed in the General Plan Update process,” she continued.

Many people asked for further public outreach. “What we desire is a forum either with this body or other bodies that will give us a chance to be heard,” said John Corbett, chair of the McKinleyville Municipal Advisory Committee.

Trinidad Councilmember Dwight Miller said there’s concern about zoning designations that could lead to over-use of Luffenholtz Creek, the city’s water source.

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Company states cannabis facility is still ‘off the table’


A Humboldt County Planning Commission meeting set for Thursday evening will address sweeping zoning changes across the county and is concerning some residents about potential changes, which could mean the revival of a cannabis manufacturing facility project at a Mercer-Fraser Co. site.

The 55-page document accompanying the agenda for the planning commission includes requests for zoning changes by the owners of 30 parcels across the county. Among those parcels are several owned by Mercer-Fraser, including a gravel quarry in the Glendale area, which was the site of a previously proposed cannabis facility.

For Mercer-Fraser’s part, the company’s CEO Justin Zabel said the zoning changes have nothing to do with the cannabis facility, which is a no-go at this point.

“That’s off the table,” Zabel said of plans for a cannabis manufacturing facility.

Nevertheless, groups including Humboldt Baykeeper and Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District are concerned about what rezoning for heavy industrial sites could mean for the Mad River.

A special meeting was called by the water district board on Wednesday afternoon, and the board voted to request the staff draft a letter outlining concerns.

“The board directed staff to prepare a letter to the county planning commission detailing how designating the properties in the Mad River watershed is inconsistent with other county policies and poses a threat to the Mad River water quality,” District General Manager John Friedenbach said.

He said he planned to deliver the letter to the planning commission on Thursday evening.

About 88,000 residents depend on the watershed for water, approximately two-thirds of Humboldt County residents, Friedenbach said.

The property would be rezoned to heavy industrial with a special designation that Humboldt Baykeeper Executive Director Jennifer Kalt said would allow for cannabis manufacturing.

“A heavy industry is the zone that they are changing it to. They claim they are putting a ‘Q’ on to restrict it to cannabis,” she said.

But her primary concern she said is that after the rezone, there could be no further environmental reviews of the parcel.

“The way this county operates,” she said, “when something is developed with industrial uses, they say ‘well, it’s already industrial. We can add this that and the other.'”

She also noted that the way the zoning request is introduced makes it somewhat inaccessible to most local residents.

“A really big question is why isn’t there more information that is easily accessible to the public,” she said. “You can scroll through all these pages and I have been following land use planning issue for years and it was somewhat incomprehensible to me what was being changed.”

 

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