Summer 2011 pg7

The United States Constitution and the
Humboldt County Land Use Constitution

A call to decentralize the Community Development Services Department by implementation Planning Advisory Committees with advisory planning decision authority

– By Herb Schwartz

The general plan is the constitution for land use in the county. If a court finds a general plan defective, all land use regulation (permits, etc.) in the county is frozen.

All land use regulation is derived from the police power reserved to the states by the United States Constitution.

The Constitution is derived from the democratic consent and participation of the citizenry. This is found in the English “common law” which has been adopted by California.

Centralized planning decisions, as now practiced by Humboldt County, violate the equal protection provisions of the California and U.S. Constitutions. For the purposes of this article, this broad and unproved assertion is “assumed” to temporarily provide a context for the use, implementation and necessity of Citizen Advisory Committees to frame this discussion in the context of constitutional land use regulation.

The existing law found in Section 1500 is inadequate. The solution proposed by The Community Development Services Department (aka “Planning”) attempted to do away entirely with the “Planning Advisory Committees” aka as “Citizen Advisory Committees.” The Board of Supervisors, in response to petitions by citizens and governmental agencies directed a review of formation of “CAC’s”, the scope of which review was, again, inadequate.

Under the existing (inadequate) General Plan, Section 1500, (Volume 1, Framework) it states “Planning Advisory Committees (PAC) may be created to review and prepare recommendations concerning special or technical planning matters that may have countywide significance…”{emphasis added}

These “PAC’s” should be established as mandatory rather than permissive. They shall be created, not may be created. They shall have a specific mandate with advisory authority, i.e., unless their decisions are appealed to the Planning Commission and then to the Board of Supervisors, their decisions shall have the force of law. However, each defined community could opt out of de-centralized planning department operations. These PAC’s would be situated so they are within a half-hour drive of the communities within their defined jurisdictions. The committee members would be paid an honorary per diem funded by mandatory assessments in their jurisdictions. PAC staff would be funded by mandatory assessments in their jurisdictions. The staff and/or the PAC could be elected or appointed. The PAC’s influence should be immediate and direct and their bureaucratic procedures should be simple, limited, and available on line. The overall objective is to de-centralize and distribute “Planning Commission” decision making to the grass roots.

At the same time, to avoid the “tragedy of the commons”, i.e. destruction of the landscape by helter-skelter planning decisions by powerful individuals who could dominate grass roots “PAC’s”, the Board of Supervisors can mandate the broad landscape directions in the General Plan that must be followed by local planning committees. Examples: Dirt roads in rural areas cannot be cut unless they are constructed with appropriate siltation engineering. Landscape standards for resource protection must be followed for any land use subdivision, lot line adjustment, development, etc. Homes could be constructed if the cumulative impact doesn’t upset resource mandates. The door to development doesn’t remain open forever. But a particular use on a 40-acre plot doesn’t destroy the common good or the resource landscape or the common watershed as long as the door is firmly closed from future development. The concept of “carrying capacity” is embedded in the General Plan and executed by local PAC’s on a case-by-case basis founded on GIS demographic, watershed, transportation, housing, and other data overlays.

Humboldt County can and should lead the way in de-centralized land use control using “state of the art” GIS data overlays with terminals at every local PAC. This could all be funded by a few hundred dollars of assessment per parcel within the jurisdictions of the PAC’s that opt in to local access to planning decisions.

If this deconstruction of existing dysfunctional government operations returns transparency and opens up communication between the governors and the governed the public’s belief that government exists of, for and by the people, would make Humboldt County a national leader on land use regulation that makes sense to individual land owners and the strengthens the common good. It can happen. It’s not that difficult. It requires courage and vision. Real Humboldt Audacity. Real Humboldt Hope.


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