TABLE OF CONTENTS
|Keeping Up with Humboldt County’s Changes to the General Plan
Applicable to all Counties
By Virginia Graziani
What is the Humboldt County General Plan Update, and how will it affect the Eel River? Why should we get involved when there are so many other critical issues facing our river?
A General Plan is the blueprint for future residential, commercial, industrial, and agricultural growth within each county. The General Plan sets goals, standards, and methods for accommodating each type of growth, for protecting resource lands and open space, for finding ways of providing affordable housing for all income levels, and for accomplishing other growth-related objectives, such as protecting water quality.
Ultimately, the General Plan establishes land use designations, which determine what kinds of activities and how much subdivision is allowed on different types of land. Within each land use designation, different zones are created. Zoning regulates the type and number of buildings permitted on each specific parcel.
An update to a General Plan occurs roughly every 25 years to address issues that have come to the fore since the last General Plan was drafted. The current effort to update the General Plan for this county began several years ago, with hopes of adopting a plan by 2009. For the first time in Humboldt County history, the Update includes a Water Resources “element” (chapter). Its purpose is described as follows: “... to ensure that the County’s water resources are sustained and protected. To achieve this purpose, water resource management will be implemented in an integrated manner throughout all jurisdictions in the County. Such implementation will proceed on a sustainable yield and quality protection basis which considers the amount of quality water that can be used over the long term without exceeding the replenishment rates over time or causing long-term declines or degradation in available surface water or groundwater resources.”
Water resources are impacted by more than simply the amount of water used. Where and how water is taken from watersheds is vitally important, not to mention the specifics of waste or pollution entering the watershed at various points. Good planning for growth not only encourages water conservation but will establish a pattern of development that supports the health of our rivers and streams, along with the human, animal, and plant communities that depend on them.
In 2004, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors held a series of hearings to scope public opinion on three “sketchplans”—alternative visions of how the County could accommodate growth. Under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) the county is required to examine at least three new alternatives, plus a “no change” alternative. Taken all together, hundreds of citizens testified at the hearings, as well as submitting written comments. Citizen comments overwhelmingly supported Sketchplan A, the one with the most protection for resource and open land, the one that encouraged most new development to occur in “urban” areas; that is, areas where public services like water and sewer already exist, or where exiting services could most easily be extended.
The three sketchplans were refined by staff into three alternatives, and a draft plan was presented to the Planning Commission at a series of public hearings in 2007. Predictably, Alternative B was selected as the preferred alternative, representing the middle ground. Alternative B tries to reconcile Alternatives A and C by providing some protection for watersheds and resource lands while allowing a moderate level of new rural development. Public reaction has been equally predictable, with individuals and groups from both sides lobbying energetically for Alternative A or C. Some groups advocate for Alternative D, re-adopting the existing General Plan, which is actually even friendlier to development than Alternative C.
One round of comment on the draft plan was completed in January, and staff will bring a revised draft to the Commission in a few months, as well as a draft of the EIR required by CEQA. More public comment will be taken on these draft documents, with hope of actual adoption by the Supervisors by the close of 2009.
Proponents of Alternatives C and D argue that the Water Resources element is unnecessary and will only add more regulation to property owners already burdened by state and federal regulation. Supporters of Alternative A point out that the County must have a comprehensive plan for managing water resources to meet the unique situation of our region and the Eel River system. It’s most likely that Alternative B will be adopted, as choosing the middle ground is standard operating procedure for government agencies, but public input can change the location of that middle ground. Strong support for Alternative A will make Alternative B stronger.
Development proponents try to make Alternative A sound like a Soviet-style plan to force the populace into tiny high-rise apartments in city centers. In reality, Alternative A would curb the subdivision of large ranches and timberland and would encourage development in areas where public services exist or can feasibly be extended, but it also offers opportunities for homesteads from a few acres up to 160 acres. No rural residents will be required to move into town.
Citizen input is the best way to ensure that the General Plan Update reflects and implements our vision for the future. The current draft plan, technical reports, and comments are available at Humboldt County’s website, www.co.humboldt.ca.us. Click on “Community Development,” and then click on “General Plan Update Home Page.” A link to the Water Resources element can be found in the Table of Contents. A copy of the draft plan is also available at the Garberville Library and other local libraries. Planning maps of the Southern Humboldt area for each alternative are available at the Garberville Sanitary District office during business hours.
The Water Resources element addresses surface and ground water, watershed management, water exportation, and hydropower relicensing. Following the draft text of the plan based on Alternative B, you will find a “voting chart” where you can ask to retain, delete, or modify various parameters of the draft plan. The chart shows the wording that appears in the various alternatives so you can compare them. You will note that many policies, standards, and implementation methods are shared by Alternatives A and B, but A is more pro-active, requiring the County to take some new and positive actions concerning water management.
To comment on the Water Resources element or any part of the General Plan update, you may mail or email the voting chart, or write a letter with your comments to the Planning Commission and staff, or testify in person at a Planning Commission hearing. If you find errors of fact, be sure to state them; people who know the land do a great service by sharing that knowledge. If you’re pressed for time, a short letter expressing your support for a specific alternative or policy will be meaningful. The important thing is that we make our voices heard. The General Plan Update is our chance to influence what will happen to our land, our watersheds, our communities, and our rivers for the next 25 years and beyond.
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