Forest and Ag Lands and the General Plan Update
By Steve Horner
Probably one of the most contentious issues in the General Plan Update is how forest and agricultural zoned parcels will be treated in the future. The planning department has a new design for your piece of rural timberland (TPZ) or agriculture land (AE). The only two alternatives of the General Plan Update that seem to be getting any serious consideration by the Planning Commission will both radically change how most of the private land in our county is treated, with both alternatives being steeped in the thought that rural residents are a threat to our forests and agriculture lands.
Our current General Plan, the one that preceded it and before that the land use laws that governed these lands, treated the right of people to live on forest and ag parcels as sacred. It was not given a second thought that people are an integral part of our private forest and farmlands, and that each one of the parcels carried with it the right to build a dwelling.
Under the early laws of our country, people were allowed to homestead certain portions of our county and were granted land in parcels of 40 to 160 acres as long as they proved they were living there and improving the property. These original parcels–known as Patent Parcels–granted by our government to its citizens make up a sort of jigsaw puzzle that to this day comprises the private lands of Humboldt County. The history of each one of these parcels can be traced back to its grant to the original owner from the U.S. Government, many signed by the U.S. president at the time of granting! Probably one of the most important things to remember today about these grants is that it was not just a fundamental right for the owner to live on the parcel, it was a REQUIREMENT!
Today, however, our local government leaders have allowed a false premise to pervade the land-use “consciousness” of our county–known as the General Plan Update–that residents of our forest and farm lands are harmful to its long-term sustainability. The Update is rife with “evidence” that rural residents dry up our rivers, bury our streams in sediment, place our forests at risk of burning up, cause global warming by using more than their fair share of fossil fuels, and on top of that are unhealthy because they spend too much time in their cars. It’s hard to believe that our local government leaders have built such an altar that professes to save our environment yet depicts the people who protect and nurture it as a scourge.
The proposals being considered in the General Plan Update seek to exclude the right to build a home on smaller forest and ag parcels. Some forest or ranchland parcels would have to be 600 acres or larger before the County would allow a landowner to build a home. On both forest and ag parcels, the County wants the ability to review your lifestyle and how you are using the land before THEY decide if you can build a home.
Many of the policies in the General Plan Update are vague and are supported by language that would be hard for anyone to disagree with. Such language states that certain policies will “preserve our resource lands,” or “ensure the stability and productivity of the county’s agriculture lands,” and evaluate “compatibility” of rural residences with forestry and agriculture operations. However, when these policies are used as the basis for developing ordinances they will be used as justification for preventing issuance of building permits.
Each owner of rural property needs to examine precisely how the General Plan Update will affect his or her own parcel. Not all parcels are treated equally. One way to examine a parcel is to use the County’s Web GIS (Geographic Information System). With this system a landowner can look at maps of how the Land Use Designation may be changed under the various alternatives being considered by the Planning Commission. There are many cases where changes will not occur, but there are many where they will. There are parcels that are changing from Agriculture Exclusive to Timberland; Agriculture Exclusive to Ranchland; or, Timberland to Industrial Timberland. In some cases where a house is currently allowed on a 40-acre parcel, a new proposal may require 160 to 600 acres be acquired before a home can be built. The only way for an individual owner to know for sure it to check into it themselves. Its unfortunate that the County has decided to propose such dramatic changes without individually notifying each affected landowner.
Even if a parcel is not affected by changes that will someday result in different zoning, the ability to build a home or have an existing home become permitted may become impossible under new ordinances that will result. For example, if an owner of a Timberland Production Zone parcel cannot prove in the future that their new or unpermitted home is not “necessary” for growing and harvesting trees, it will not be allowed. Another example is if a building permit applicant cannot demonstrate that developing a water supply that meets the County’s requirements cannot be done without causing “cumulative impacts” to a watershed, no building permit will be issued. And, if a road that meets the “Fire Safe” recommendations of the state forestry department cannot be built, no building permit will be issued.
The rural residents of Humboldt County–and those that love our rural lifestyle–need to be vigilant and become involved in the activities of the General Plan Update. The changes adopted today will affect our county for the next twenty-years and beyond. It would be a shame for Humboldt’s citizens to place all their trust in our government leaders today only to learn in the future that our dreams have been squandered. It’s up to each one of us to become aware and involved.
Producing Your Own Renewable Energy
By Andy Karnitz
When you take a step outside with your next morning cup of coffee or tea you might feel the sun on your face, or maybe the wind in your hair, or possibly the rain in your eye, or, as Humboldt county does well, all three at once. If your property has a few sun drenched spots, a perfect wind funnel off the coast, or those rain drops percolate through the soil into a creek, you can potentially utilize the Earth’s natural, renewable resources to supply your essential energy needs. Whether on the grid or off, these resources, and today’s technology, can be used to reduce your reliance on the power company or a fuel-burning generator interrupting the serenity you seek in the first place. Today’s technology is better and more efficient than ever at capturing and converting these free forms of energy into high-quality, usable, on-demand power. Photovoltaic modules, solar water heating collectors, wind turbines, micro-hydro generators, inverters, and batteries are a few of the technologies that make this possible.
Before exploring these technologies, let’s discuss how to determine if you own a good resource:
Solar – If you have a spot on the roof, or within a few hundred feet of your house, that sees sun from 9am to 3pm most months of the year you have an excellent solar potential. With a compass and angle gauge (or a fancy solar site analysis tool), it is easy to assess the sun harvesting potential in any given location with a high degree of accuracy, and in turn size a solar system to meet the need or budget of your project.
Wind – If you find a site with an average annual wind speed of 12 mph, you are in a good area to put a wind turbine. Unfortunately wind potential is relatively hard to assess for two major reasons: the height that the data needs to be collected from, and the sophisticated equipment and time needed to accurately determine this resource. The best data will usually come from an outside source, i.e.: an airport, a weather monitoring station, another site analysis done in the area, or possibly a neighbor that already made the leap and has a turbine.
Hydro – The potential to generate electricity with water is fairly easy to assess and predictable if you know the seasonal variations of your particular waterway. If you can divert 40 gallons per minute (7.5 seconds to fill a 5 gallon bucket) into a pipe and run it 100′ in elevation (found with GPS or altimeter) downstream, you can potentially have 400 watts of power, 24 hours a day.
Now we can explore the technologies that make it possible to harness, store and use these resources:
Batteries – An essential part of an off-grid system, batteries are for storing the renewably generated energy when it is available, or the fossil fueled energy when the generator runs. Batteries can also function as the backup of a grid-connected system, to supply your needs in the event of grid failure, which in certain parts of this county, are an expected occurrence.
Inverters – Inverters change the direct current (DC) power from your battery bank (or directly from a renewable source in a grid connected system) to alternating current (AC), a more common and usable form of electricity. Some inverters also include a charger (AC to DC), to charge batteries from the grid, generator, or other AC source.
Photovoltaic Modules (PV) – PV modules use semiconductor technology to convert sunlight into electricity. This electricity can be used in an off-grid system to charge batteries, or in a grid connected system to directly feed the grid, offsetting part or all of the energy consumed on site. Today’s technology has made the capture and conversion of this energy more efficient and more cost effective, and therefore quicker to pay back, especially considering the ever-rising price of fuel and electricity.
Solar Water Heating Systems – Heating water with energy captured from sunlight is a logical way to use sun to provide a part of your energy demand. The systems that exist today have well designed pumps, heat exchangers, and freeze protection systems, which make them more reliable and efficient than ever.
Wind Turbines – As with PV modules, wind turbines can generate electricity to charge batteries or to directly feed the grid. Wind turbine systems can be specifically designed to make the best use of the available resource by considering wind speed, turbulence and other wind variables.
Micro Hydro – Small hydroelectric generators properly sized to their resource can provide a significant amount of energy seasonally or year-round. One benefit is that the hydro system generates 24 hours a day (compare that to the 4.5 hours of sun per day averaged annually in Arcata). Another benefit is the ability to generate high voltage power, which can be sent thousands of feet, enabling you to access water resources at the far end of the property. Micro-hydro systems can be on or off grid, but batteries are a necessity in order to deal with the inconsistent nature of most homeowners energy use.
When considering which type of renewable energy to invest in, don’t forget the financial incentives. For all of these systems, the federal government is extending a tax credit of 30% of the price of the installed system. In addition, all California residents can receive a rebate for the installation of grid connected PV and wind systems, the amount of which is determined by the size and quality of the system installed.
Andy Karnitz is a licensed California contractor (#916318), and a NABCEP Certified PV Installer (#032407-33). And owns and operates Blue Skies Solar, a full service solar contracting business. Andy can be reached at 707-834-9434, or firstname.lastname@example.org.