Facing a riled-up public, some of the newest members of the Humboldt County Planning Commission found themselves on the short end of two votes Thursday night. For the second meeting in a row, Supervisors Chambers was about half-filled by angry and demanding trail advocates, along with a smattering of fisheries biologists.
One contested vote was over whether to send a letter to the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors pleading for more time to re-work the General Plan Update, now 14 years into the process. (On Jan. 13, commissioners were given a 45-day deadline to complete their review of the GPU’s Conservation and Open Space element.) That pleading draft letter never came to a vote. Instead, on a 4-3 vote, commissioners approved a letter asking the board, “respectfully, to review the work we’ve completed so far and give us further instructions,” said Commissioner Susan Masten, who made the motion. “It would help to have guidance from our bosses.”
Lee Ulansey — the founder of the private corporation Humboldt Coalition for Property Rights (HumCPR), who joined the commission just a year ago along with Commissioners Robert Morris and Alan Bongio — disagreed saying, “I’m uncomfortable with time restraints. … We need more time.” (Five of the seven commissioners have joined the panel within the last 13 months. Masten and David Edmonds were appointed in 2011.)
The contentious meeting lasted three and a half hours with members of the public testifying at every opportunity. The last hotly disputed vote came just minutes before everyone was asked to vacate the Humboldt County Courthouse due to a 9:30 p.m. curfew. Commissioners were attempting to collectively make seven previous “straw votes” taken over the past two months final with one vote of the commission. The seven previous straw votes to change parts of the Conservation and Open Space element were flashed up on the screen before a bleary-eyed public. One included a modification to Section BR-S5 — reducing the building setback buffer for fish-bearing streams from 150 feet back to 100 feet, the limit established in the General Plan of 1984.
Gordon Leppig, an environmental scientist for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, asked commissioners to “re-evaluate” their Jan. 30 vote on BR-S5, streamside protection, because it “was not science-based.” Others testifying said it was also not in compliance with state and federal law.
The streamside protection reduction failed to gather the four votes needed to be passed on to the Board of Supervisors. Commissioners Masten, Edmonds and Noah Levy voted no; Commissioner Kevin McKenny, appointed just weeks ago, abstained.