HumCPR Executive Director Estelle Fennell speaks at Rotary
Susan Gardner, Redwood Times – 10/21/2009
Estelle Fennell, Executive Director of the Humboldt Coalition for Property Rights (HumCPR), was the guest speaker at last week’s Garberville Rotary Club. The Humboldt House Inn graciously allowed Rotary to meet in their hospitality room due the need for a last minute location change. Rotary also thanks the board of Soroptimist International of the Redwoods for giving up the room that day.
Joining Fennell was Tina Christianson from HumCPR and past president of the Humboldt County Board of Realtors. She has lived in Humboldt County for most of her life.
This past Thursday, October 15, the Humboldt County Planning Commission met in Eureka to discuss agricultural and forest lands in the unincorporated areas of the County. This is all part of the General Plan Update, which has been in process for a long time with a huge price tag to the County.
Fennell said, “We are no way near the kind of General Plan Update we would like to see happen. There is basically a bias in the General Plan in favor of urban development and against any building in rural areas. We have been pointing this out for a while, but it seems that people are just beginning to catch on. With the passing of the housing element, which favored the urbanization of Humboldt County, we now know what’s in store for the rural areas. The theory is that in order to protect the resource lands we should stop people from building in rural areas.”
Fennell said if the County goes with Alternative A on the General Fund and you own land that is zoned for industrial timber you will not be able to live on the land unless you are there specifically to manage the timber. If you own two contiguous properties of timber production land you may be forced to merge those properties.
Fennell said, “What the Humboldt Coalition for Property Rights is asking is that these very onerous restrictions be lifted. The General Plan can then move forward to address any particular issues we might have with resource protection without taking our rights away. Right now if the General Plan, as proposed under Alternative A and in most cases Alternative B, we will actually lose our property rights. I don’t believe it’s necessary for us to give up our property rights in order to make sure that our environment is a good environment.”
Fennell believes that most people who live in the rural areas of the county are good stewards of the land and care about being environmentally responsible. They want their heirs to inherit their property and they want to be able to build homes for their children on their land. She says that all of these things will come into question if Alternative A is passed as written. She said that if you live anywhere outside the urban areas this plan does not make any sense.
She said, “It is very, very hard to get this through to a planning commission who thinks they are saving the world. They think global warming and climate change must take people out of the rural areas and concentrate them into the urban areas because living on rural property has an impact on the land. We say that what the General Plan should be focusing on is helping people to live better on the land and create incentives for them to do restoration, fire protection, whatever, but not to take their rights away. It’s better to have people living on the land with a mixture of large and small land management. That’s a sustainable kind of future for Humboldt County.”
She said that HumCPR feels there is a real movement to restrict rural living at the County level. She believes a conscious effort is being made by the County to have people live where infrastructure, such as roads and fire protection, is already in place.
She stated, “Our supervisors represent the unincorporated areas of the county, but it seems that government is representing more of the incorporated areas. We need to change that. The majority of the County is unincorporated and we need to keep that focus at the County level so that our issues are addressed. We need to let the County know that we are concerned about our future. The General Plan Update is supposed to balance property rights with the health and welfare of the community. But right now that balance is really tipped to one side.”
HumCPR says there is an issue with democracy. The General Plan is supposed to incorporate the community. It is their contention that the Planning Commission and the Planning Department have let us down in that regard. They have not reached out to the outlying areas. They have been asked to do meetings in Southern Humboldt and the closest they have come was to College of the Redwoods. HumCPR said they were hoping for a meeting at least in Fortuna at River Lodge. According to Fennell they aren’t going anywhere at all.
She said that Commissioner Bruce Emad told her that if they went down to Garberville they would probably hear from a lot of people. He said he wished they would come down and explain what is going to happen when they pass the General Plan Update. HumCPR has been asking the County to let people know the proposed plans’ effects on their properties.
HumCPR recently sent out literature to agriculture and timber zoned property owners. Fennell said they got such a great response that the board is going to continue to send out even more information so that people will at least know how their land will be affected.
She said, “We want the County to know that we are out here, we care, and we want to make sure that they understand that we want to protect our rights.”
Tina Christianson said, “We at HumCPR are for property rights. That’s why we are here. It is your rights that are being jeopardized. You’ve got to fight the fight. If you think that you can go on living the way you have for the past 40 years, and build what you want to build when you want, they are going to come after you in a different way, such as code enforcement.
”If you look at the housing opportunity zones you will see that they are in certain areas. If you are outside these areas, you are going to have a lot more regulations when you want to build. We are trying to retrieve our Humboldt County.”
She said this is America and you should have the right to live on your land. Forty percent of rural landowners in Humboldt County are in Southern Humboldt.
She also said that nothing has been done about code enforcement since it became a major issue. With all the recommendations made during all those meetings, nothing has been done. She said this has come back into the spotlight with Alternative A and more regulations will be implemented on small and large parcels.
Fennell seconded that by saying Alternative A is an extension of code enforcement and aimed at rural residents and it is not the way that they would like to go. There will be no building amnesties and you may not be able to rebuild structures if they are destroyed.
Local business owner and Rotarian Stephen Dazey commented by saying, “I have yet to figure out where the housing for any of Southern Humboldt’s growth is going to come from. It seems to me that Garberville is essentially built out. There are 100 units planned on Jim Johnson’s property above the industrial park, which would take care of about two or three years of this four-year plan.”
Fennell agreed and said that is why the County needs to recognize the rural landowners and their desire to build on their property. She also said there are new restrictions coming up with regard to roads and fire safety. Instead of making those user-friendly as we have for the longest time, they are going to be very regulated. If someone’s house burns down, there may be a question as to whether or not they are be allowed to rebuild.
She said that at a meeting at the Vets Hall in Garberville the planners said that if people don’t have a permit, these buildings don’t exist in their eyes.
She also said, “The County of course has been taking the taxes for the assessments of those improvements that they say don’t exist. This raises a real issue as to whether people will be allowed to rebuild. The underlying structure is a theory or premise that the county is better off without us. They may have to live with us that are already here, but they don’t want any more of us.”
Rotary President Peter Connolly asked, “How do we take back our rights that we’ve handed over to the County? We need to take them back and tell them what we want. They are in place to enforce the laws that we want to be there.”
Fennell and Christianson agreed that we may be looking at proposing some initiatives if we can’t get through to them. In the meantime, they asked that concerned landowners write letters and go to the meetings. “You don’t have to say anything publicly, just be there to show your support. Even if it seem like it’s useless, it does count. Stand up for your rights and be heard,” they concluded.