Same Old Game With a Brand New Name
Lee Ulansey/For The Times-Standard
On April 12, the Board of Supervisors directed that the county Community Development Services Department (CDSD) respond to letters of concern received from city councils, service districts and chambers of commerce and begin outreach efforts regarding the update of the county General Plan and Housing Element.
Per board orders, CDSD staff was directed to include: discussion on use of second units as a source of affordable housing, discussion on use of flexible zoning for commercial/multi-family purposes, and discussion on efforts to seek voluntary multi-family zoning.
The board order also directed staff to bring back a work plan for further review of implementing formation of Citizens Advisory Committees (CACs) in the McKinleyville and Cutten areas, respectively. The CACs would review and make recommendations on any proposed General Plan update changes in those two areas.
Consideration of formation of CACs is included in the existing General Plan (Section 1500). Until recently, the board and Planning Commission were ignoring this provision. Now, we have a specific board order for a work plan to address it. To date, CDSD Director Kirk Girard has not produced such a plan.
This may be because Mr. Girard, as he wrote in his staff report for the April 12 meeting, does not support CACs since they would “cost a significant amount of time and money.” It certainly is commendable that Mr. Girard is budget conscious, however, his opposition not only ignores what is expressed in the letters from the cities of Eureka, Fortuna, and Rio Dell; the Humboldt, McKinleyville and Garberville community services districts and several chambers of commerce, but also ignores a convincing public desire for a stronger voice in the General Plan and Housing Element updates. It is also worthwhile to note that Supervisor Clendenen also refused to support this modest effort at public participation despite written requests by both of the incorporated cities in the district he represents ,along with the Garberville Community Services District and chamber. In doing so he effectively ignored the majority of elected officials in the 2nd District.
Another proposal the supervisors could have considered in April was formation of a Planning Advisory Committee (PAC) to advise on the housing element update multi-family rezoning program, a contentious issue. Creation of a PAC is also provided for under Section 1500.
However, it does not appear to be gaining any traction with the Board of Supervisors. Mr. Girard does not support it either, stating in his April 12 report that “staff does not recommend this because it would likely prolong the length of time the Housing Element would remain uncertified.”
Yes, currently we have a county Housing Element, under Mr. Girard’s guidance, which has been decertified by the state due, in part, to its not providing enough zoning for low income, multi-family housing. Decertification (a qualified rejection by the state Housing and Community Development Department) means, among other things, that the county will have much less success in winning state grant funds for low-income housing projects.
As far as responding to service districts, it is true that Mr. Girard, with Supervisor Ryan Sundberg in attendance, met with the McKinleyville Community Services District on April 20 and Mr. Girard gave a presentation to the April 26 meeting of the Garberville Sanitary District.
Maybe there have been meetings with other service districts, cities and/or chambers of commerce, but, if so, the general public was not aware of them. Service districts, city councils and chambers represent the public and memberships, respectively. The letters that were sent to the county were in response to public and membership concern, so it does not seem unreasonable that these are places where additional General Plan and Housing Element discussion can take place. Debate is difficult, however, absent participants. This absence, however, is not the fault of the service districts, etc. The McKinleyville and Garberville meetings mentioned above were, of course, posted on their respective agendas. But why didn’t CDSD publicize its presentations? It almost seems like CDSD is trying to avoid any measurable amount of public observation and participation.
As has been noted previously by many citizens, lack of communication and transparency has eroded the public’s belief in the update process concerning the county General Plan and Housing Element and associated multi-family rezoning issue. In order to mitigate this erosion the CDSD should, independently, send out its own public notices whenever CDSD staff will be making presentations to outside entities regarding the updates. This would help allay public perception regarding a lack of transparency, particularly concerning this new outreach effort.
Lee Ulansey is founder and chair of HumCPR