Coastal Residents Express Concerns About General Plan Update
A small but vocal group of Shelter Cove and Mattole-area residents attended an April 24 meeting held by the Humboldt Coalition for Property Rights (HumCPR), during which they expressed grave concerns about their ability to build homes on rural lands, make improvements to existing properties without paying exorbitant fees, and placing further stress on already overloaded infrastructure.
HumCPR Executive Director Estelle Fennell moderated the meeting, held at the Inn of the Lost Coast in Shelter Cove. Chief among the group’s concerns is a proposal, under the controversial and long-delayed General Plan Update, that would not allow the building of any new homes outside of "urban development areas," in part to meet state mandates for low-, very low-, and extremely low-income housing. Several maps showed the number of buildable lots the county has identified in each "urban development area"; to the alarm of those present, the second-largest inventory of parcels is in Shelter Cove.
The reason? The county needs to show that there are 2,500 lots with sewer & water hookups, and of the ones it has proposed as acceptable to build on under Plan A – touted as the most environmentally friendly GPU alternative – about 600 are in Shelter Cove. Cutten leads the pack with about 1,300 lots, with McKinleyville, Redway, Willow Creek, and Garberville trailing behind. For HumCPR supporters, the proposal to concentrate virtually all new building “on the pavement” signifies a disturbing trend towards urbanization masked as "smart growth" – and an attack on the rural lifestyle that has traditionally defined Humboldt County.
"I’m disappointed that they want to make a big city out of a small area," said Realtor Tina Christensen, who works for Coldwell Banker in Cutten. "We build 200 homes a year countywide; it’s insane to try to change a rural area into a metropolitan area." Christensen also spoke about a proposal to limit new building to parcels of 160 acres or more – which would bar anyone with, say, 40 acres from building a home, or from being able to build on property inherited from a parent or grandparent. "I consider all of Humboldt County a ‘rural’ area," she continued, adding wryly: "Eureka is ‘metropolitan,’ and we can’t even keep a mall."
Of further concern to HumCPR supporters, such as speaker Rick Poe, is the fact that under Plan A, Alternative Owner Building, or AOB, would be essentially banned. Poe, who bought a 40-acre parcel off of Highway 36 in 2005, wants to "build with resources on my own property," he said, adding that he plans to make his home as energy-efficient and environmentally friendly as possible. "AOB has a lot of incentive to set our own infrastructure as far as solar and other things," he continued – but many "alternative building" features, such as composting toilets, would be prohibited if AOB ceased to be an option.
As it stands now, HumCPR supporters allege, rural landowners are penalized for being green: for example, if a property owner installs a rainwater collection and storage system, he or she will not only get taxed on it, but the tax will increase with inflation – even though the value of the system and tank will decrease, and it will eventually need to be replaced. Furthermore, many of those present claimed, the attitude that the county Planning Department has adopted is, "We love our resource lands, but these lands are harmed when people move into them."
If present trends continue and are formalized under the GPU, speaker Bob Morris said, "Only the wealthy and the corporate owners will be able to afford it [buying land in Humboldt County] – and they’re supposed to be ‘better stewards’? Basically, you’re telling me that MAXXAM is a better steward of the land than I am, even though I was born and raised here, and know how to live on the land?"
Second District Supervisor Clif Clendenen and Senior Planner Martha Spencer, both of whom were present, tried to defuse some of the more passionate commentary. Clendenen said the county really is attempting to take environmental concerns seriously, especially given grave situations such as the ongoing water issues in the Mattole River. "I see ‘smart growth’ as a good thing in ‘urban’ Humboldt County," Clendenen said, "like having two-story live/work units or artists’ studios. We might build some of that in the mill district in Fortuna… We’re not going to be moving people out to Briceland to live in 500-square-foot apartments."
However, Clendenen added, "where there is going to be growth, it’s government’s job to steer it in an environmentally-friendly way." Several attendees took exception to this statement: "We’re the ones building the water tanks [to hold and conserve water], because government will not," said one. "We’re the ones doing that work!" "When I came here, I felt like I was moving home," said Lily Macy, 62, who moved to Southern Humboldt several years ago with her husband Jim, 83, onto land they have owned since 1971. "I want to keep the land and build on it, and the thought that we won’t be able to do that, to achieve our dream, just kills me."
"We’re here because we love it," Jim Macy added, "and we’re the ones who take care of the wilderness, the water. We’re the ones who are fighting to save the salmon, improve the roads, work on fire protection around our homes… We want dialogue with the people in our county government who are dictating to us how we are supposed to live."
For her part, Spencer said the staff recommendation is the less-restrictive Plan B, but she reminded attendees that "a lot of funding" is dependent on the county’s ability to meet the low-income housing element mandated by state law. Hence, the high percentage of “buildable lots” in the Shelter Cove "urban development area." That idea didn’t wash with the Cove locals present: not only are there relatively few year-round residents, but there are no educational, healthcare, or transportation services, and the power grid is already overwhelmed by indoor marijuana growing – and may need to be upgraded soon, according to one resident, "even though it was supposed to last for another 40 years."
Attendees also discussed the morass of building on TPZ (Timber Production Zone) lands; ministerial versus discretionary building permits; and environmentalists’ fears of zealous development of rural lands. Ultimately, "It is very important that there be public participation in the General Plan Update," Fennell said. "This is our constitution, this is what we live by – the direction our county should take."
An open forum on the General Plan Update is slated for Thursday, April 30 during the Planning Commission meeting; while meetings are normally held in the Board of Supervisors chamber, there is a possibility that the April 30 gathering will be moved to a larger venue. More information is available from the county’s General Plan Update site, www.planupdate .org, or from HumCPR, www.humcpr.org.
The Independent – Cristina Bauss (2009-04-28)