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Sept. 9, 2004

The Weekly Wrap

Planning Commission to choose growth model
County appears to shy away from sprawl

What is a General Plan?


 T H E  W E E K L Y  W R A P

FLIGHTS TO LAX: Air travel from Arcata to the Los Angeles International Airport will become easier now that a Federal Aviation Administration grant of $500,000 has been approved. Chris Kerrigan, Fourth Ward City Council member in Eureka and chairman of the Redwood Region Economic Development Commission, spearheaded the effort and pushed the Eureka City Council and RREDC to match grants of $5,000 each. Horizon Air will operate the flights, which will stop off in Redding to pick up passengers on the way to L.A. Currently travelers must stop in San Francisco or Portland and change planes before traveling to Southern California. The new flights will begin in mid-2005, and after one year the success of the Arcata-L.A. connection will be reviewed by the FAA to decide whether or not to continue the flights.

ANOTHER WEST NILE BIRD KILL: Brent Whitener, vector control officer for the county, confirmed last week that another dead bird found in McKinleyville -- a crow, this time -- has tested positive for the West Nile virus. Four other specimens from around the county were tested at the same time as the unfortunate bird; all others came up negative. Whitener said that surveillance in the McKinleyville area shows that the town's mosquito population is pretty well under control except for the areas around Widow White and Strawberry creeks. Mosquito season is scheduled to end in early October.

REDWOOD THEFT: After receiving a tip from a witness, Humboldt Redwoods State Park rangers arrested Hydesville resident Sean Reese Richardson around 11:30 p.m. Sunday on suspicion of grand theft, possession of drug paraphernalia and resisting arrest in connection with his attempt to remove old-growth redwood from the park. The park has seen a sharp increase in what it calls "resource crimes" over the last few years, with late-night thieves splitting downed trees into shingle bolts and fence railings and hauling them off, park rangers said. Park officials said they will "vigorously prosecute" any offenders. Meanwhile, the Humboldt Redwoods Interpretive Association is offering a $500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone stealing old-growth. Call 946-1801 with info.

GAS AND CASKETS? Now that Costco has firmly established itself as a player in the gasoline business in Eureka, can funeral supplies be far behind? Last month a Costco store in Chicago began selling a spiffy steel casket in colors ranging from lilac to Neapolitan blue for just $799.99, available on just two days' notice. (Investor's Business Daily noted that the funeral home industry's stock took a dip after the retail giant's announcement.) Rob Ferguson, manager of Eureka Costco, said his company does a lot of test marketing at special kiosks -- "You know, like our drapery kiosk" -- but that doesn't mean you can expect a casket kiosk anytime soon.

TODDLER WANDERING STREETS: Arcata police reported last week that an apartment manager discovered a 2 1/2-year-old child alone on a balcony at around 3 a.m. The manager went to call police, then returned to find the child had left the apartment and was crossing a street. Police said they determined that the mother, Harie Cohn, was too intoxicated to care for the child, who was taken into protective custody. Cohn was arrested on suspicion of willful endangerment of a child and was booked into Humboldt County Jail; she also had an outstanding warrant from southern California, police said.

CAREGIVER FOUND GUILTY: Former Orick resident Joseph Pierre Rollin was found guilty last week in Humboldt County Superior Court of abuse, neglect and contributing to the death of Joi Henderson-Wright in March 2002. Rollin was the registered caregiver for Henderson-Wright, who suffered from multiple sclerosis and was 42 at the time of her death. District Attorney Paul Gallegos, who handled the case against Rollin, could not be reached for comment. Rollin is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 30.

HUMCO'S NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND SCORES: The California Department of Education last week released a report detailing how well schools are doing in meeting the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. For Humboldt County schools, it appears that the answer is: not bad. Fully 80 percent of local schools met their mandated NCLB guidelines, including the difficult requirement that schools must test 95 percent of their students. Parents are free to opt their children out of standardized testing -- for some, an unpleasant yearly ritual -- but schools are punished if over 5 percent do. For more info, go to

CURRY COUNTY TO THE RESCUE: The Curry County Public Transit system has filled up a portion of the gap left when Greyhound abandoned its Crescent City-Portland route last month. On Tuesday, the first CCPT bus departed Crescent City bound for Brookings, Ore., where residents could catch easy transfers up to Coos Bay. From there, Porter Stage Lines operates a bus inland to Eugene and the Greyhound main line on Interstate 5. "We're trying to get as much of a network set up as possible, so people can get around with a minimal amount of inconvenience," CCPT General Manager Bill Dooley said Tuesday. Locals who want to travel this route should catch the morning northbound Greyhound, which departs Eureka at 6:40 a.m. Monday through Saturday.

DEAN DUMPS ON FRANCESCONI: Eureka native and St. Bernard's graduate Jim Francesconi is facing a surprisingly difficult battle in his mayoral bid in the city of Portland, Ore. Last spring, Francesconi was the front-runner in the race --he had raised nearly $1 million and had racked up endorsements from across the political spectrum. But he was surprised in the March primary, finishing second place to former police chief Tom Potter, who refused to accept campaign donations of greater than $25. And last week former presidential candidate Howard Dean showed up in Portland to stump for Potter, going door to door with the candidate to sing his praises. But don't count Francesconi out, says his cousin Debra Kingshill, personnel director at the Humboldt County Office of Education: "Definitely, he's still in it 155 percent," she said.

OLD GROWTH BILL DIES: The state Assembly's last day to approve new legislation passed last week, and with it went any chance for the California Heritage Tree Preservation Act of 2003. The act, which would have banned cutting of old-growth redwood, passed the Senate last summer, but died on the Assembly floor without a vote. The fact that legislative leaders did not call for a vote was particularly irksome to local activist Susan Moloney, executive director of the Campaign for Old Growth. "Those Assembly members who would have been a `no' vote are not on record as voting `no,' so I think that's unfortunate," she said. Moloney said that supporters of the bill would likely introduce it again in the next legislative session.

A KENNEDY ON THE TRINITY: Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), son of Sen. Edward "Teddy" Kennedy (D-Mass.), took a spin through Hoopa last Thursday, enjoying a rafting trip down the Trinity and talking water issues with locals. Danielle Vigil-Masten, administrative assistant for the Hoopa Valley Tribe, said that the congressman came at the tribe's invitation. "His family has supported Indian country from the very beginning," Vigil-Masten said. "Tribes have a good relationship working with the Kennedy family." Representatives of numerous local tribes -- including the Yurok and Karuk as well as the Trinidad and Elk River rancherias -- turned out for a fund-raiser that evening. Vigil-Masten said that only that the fund-raiser was "very successful," and that the advertised suggested donation for the event -- $2,000 to $4,000 -- applied to tribal governments only.

ARCATA HIGH GOES SOLAR: Thanks to two grants received this summer, Arcata High School will install a 30-kilowatt solar electric system with more than 200 solar panels on its roof, as well as two solar hot water systems and energy audit equipment. The solar panels will be funded by a $178,106 Solar Schools grant from the California Energy Commission; the hot water system and audit equipment by a $10,000 "A Plus for Energy" grant from BP. The panels will be installed this school year, said Arcata High science teacher and district grant-writer Louis Armin-Hoiland.

VICTOR SCHAUB MEMORIAL LECTURE: State Senator Wesley Chesbro (D-Arcata) will give a speech Monday entitled, "The Role of Local Politics in an Election Year" as part of an annual lecture series in memory of former Arcata Mayor Victor Schaub. Schaub, a civil attorney who was involved in county politics for 20 years and served as Arcata's mayor from 1990 to 1995, drowned in April at age 61 after attempting to save two of his grandchildren who were nearly swept out to sea while the family vacationed in Hawaii. The HSU department of government and politics is hosting the event. Chesbro, who was a friend of Schaub, will speak at 7 p.m. in the Goodwin Forum at HSU.

Planning Commission to choose growth model
County appears to shy away from sprawl


AFTER SEVERAL YEARS OF PREPARATION and months of lobbying from environmental and building interests, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors is preparing to decide the shape of future development in unincorporated areas.

And despite heavy pressure from Humboldt Economic and Land Plan (HELP), a group made up of members of the building community, it appears that the county is moving away from the idea of significantly expanding residential construction into farmland or forests.

The board's upcoming choice among the county planning staff's "sketch plans" -- broad-stroke visions of the county's growth patterns over the coming 20 years -- will be a critical step in the county's general plan update. The choice will determine whether the county will focus on modest growth, largely confined to existing communities, or vast and rapid housing expansion designed for some 60,000 new residents.

At a meeting of the planning commission last Thursday, the county's Community Development Services director unveiled three new sketch plan options, all of which shied away from suburbanization of resource lands to one extent or another. Director Kirk Girard said that the public overwhelmingly endorses the idea that future growth should be accomplished through "infill" -- or denser development within already existing communities -- wherever possible.

"One of the major take-homes from this stage is that the alternatives that were on the table, which allowed for extension of water lines and rural residential subdivisions, were not supported by anybody," Girard said. "That finding was, in part, what led staff to overhaul the sketch plan alternatives."

The three new sketch plans, now called "A," "B," and "C" to distinguish them from their four numerical predecessors, all curtail the amount of development that can be done in rural regions. Plan A would essentially ban all residential building in areas not served by municipal water and sewer lines. It would likely involve "down-zoning" many properties in the outskirts of existing town, restricting existing landowners' rights to subdivide their parcels, while it would increase the allowable density of residences in already existing urban areas.

Sketch plan C meets one of HELP's goals in that it provides enough land to accommodate a growth rate of 2 percent per year -- 18,000 new homes over the next 20 years -- but it would tightly pack that large number of residences into a dense area in and around already existing communities. In short, it wouldn't seem to provide HELP advocates with anything close to the amount of raw land they have been demanding. (Plan B is a mid-point between the two extremes, but like plan A it is based on the state's official estimate of a 0.6 percent per year growth rate in Humboldt County.)

No members of HELP were available to comment on the new sketch plans when they were unveiled. The group's spokesperson, insurance agent Mike Harvey, was attending the Republican National Convention at the time. On Monday, Harvey said that the group would be meeting to discuss the new options over the coming days.

"We're in the process of regrouping a little bit with these things," he said, noting his preliminary approval of the fact that the county took HELP's preferred growth rate into consideration when developing the new sketch plan C. "We asked for a new sketch plan, which I guess they've kind of done."

In recent months, HELP has given public presentations, printed up full-color brochures and launched a Web site to present its message -- that the county needs to foster a friendlier business environment, and that the quickly rising cost of homes in the county can be tempered by opening up additional opportunities for residential development. In addition, the group commissioned a Portland, Ore., firm to conduct a poll of residents' attitudes toward development. The group says that the poll results back up their message.

Despite their apparent success in advocating infill, the Healthy Humboldt Coalition -- an organization comprised of the Humboldt Watershed Council, the local chapter of the Sierra Club and the Northcoast Environmental Center, along with support from allied groups such as the Alliance for Ethical Business -- is carefully watching the remainder of the process.

At last week's meeting of the Planning Commission, Mark Lovelace of the Humboldt Watershed Council expressed concern that the county would consider any expansion outside the boundaries of towns, which Healthy Humboldt believes is the most expensive, as well as the most environmentally unfriendly, option.

"We need to look at the fact that we can accommodate lots more within our existing areas," Lovelace told the commission. "Let's keep looking within our communities."

Healthy Humboldt's apparent success may be in part due to the fact that some groups not traditionally allied with the environmental movement -- the Humboldt County Farm Bureau, for example -- have also championed infill over expansion.

John LeBoyteaux, Farm Bureau vice president, told commissioners that agricultural interests believed in protecting agricultural lands from suburban-style development. He said new growth should be focused in areas that have municipal water and sewage systems available.

"The Farm Bureau has long advocated providing growth focused within and adjacent to existing serviced areas," he said.

Much work will still need to be done to flesh out the complete general plan after the supervisors pick a sketch plan alternative. It will likely take more than a year for county staff to finish the complete plan, develop a zoning ordinance to codify regulations envisioned by the plan and write and circulate and environmental impact report, which is required by law.

The Planning Commission is expected to pick its favorite among the new sketch plans at its regular meeting tonight (Sept. 9). The commission also is likely to make recommendations to the Board of Supervisors on additional "policy options" in the new general plan -- new regulations developed in tandem with the new general plan and designed to promote affordable housing, protect agricultural and timber land, support the Port of Humboldt Bay and address the export of county water, among other things.

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to hear the Planning Commission's recommendations and take further public comment at a special session Monday night. It may decide on the plan that evening or at a later meeting.

But both HELP and Healthy Humboldt are promising to stick around and follow the general planning process meticulously, even after the winning sketch plan is chosen.

Their mutually antagonistic advocacy may make mincemeat of Planning Commissioner Bruce Emad's hopeful words at the conclusion of last week's meeting.

"What we will come up with, at best, will disturb and make everyone unhappy -- within reason," Emad said. "Everyone will walk away and say `This is not what I want, this is not exactly what I had in mind.' But they won't be disturbed enough to come in here with pitchforks and throw tomatoes at the board."

 Upcoming general plan hearings

Thursday, Sept. 9, 2004, 6 p.m.

Monday, Sept. 13, 2004, 6 p.m.

Both meetings will take place in the Supervisors' Chambers of the Humboldt County Courthouse, 825 5th St., Eureka.

 What is a general plan?

One of the most important powers of cities and counties in California is broad control over land use within their jurisdictions. A general plan, often called a "constitution for development," is a state-mandated document, rewritten approximately every 20 years, in which local governments lay out their visions for their communities' future.

Humboldt County's general plan, which was last updated in 1984, covers all the land under county jurisdiction -- in other words, outside the limits of the county's seven incorporated cities, each of which has its own general plan. A little over half the county's population lives outside the cities, including residents of McKinleyville, Cutten, Willow Creek, Westhaven, Orick and Garberville/Redway.

General plans must address many issues in determining how to meet future needs of residents, including transportation, public safety, open space and even noise levels. Each of these topics, along with others that governments may wish to address, is covered by a separate chapter (or "element") in the plan.

The most important elements of a general plan, though -- the ones that set the pace for all other issues -- deal with land use and housing. The land use element of Humboldt County's plan defines what sorts of activities will be permitted on each parcel of land in the county's jurisdiction. Any piece of land may be designated for housing, industry, timber production or agriculture, for example, and owners of that parcel are subject to restrictions on what sort of development they may undertake on their properties. The land use element of the general plan is implemented through the county's zoning ordinance, which spells out those restrictions in detail.

The housing element of the general plan is subject to greater oversight by the state government than other elements of the plan and must be rewritten at least every five years. Local jurisdictions must demonstrate to the state government that they are adequately prepared for population growth.

If this test is not met, the state may reject a jurisdiction's housing element and send it back to the drawing board. The land use element of the general plan must set aside enough land for construction to meet the needs projected in the housing element. Humboldt County's last housing element update was passed in December of last year.



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