This week's cover story is a scholarly write-up by Journal News Editor Thadeus Greenson about the General Plan Update process — and how money may or may not influence decisions. He started with a public records act request to county supervisors for emails during a specific time period last year when they were changing the GPU "guiding principles" adopted 10 years before. (That action is still the most egregious vote this board has taken so far — changing long-established rules used by the previous planning commission to hold hearings and complete the draft GPU.)
While Thad was finishing his nuanced piece Monday afternoon, the supervisors were in a raucous session at the courthouse on the same topic — the GPU. Over two hours, more than 30 speakers came to the podium to chastise the supervisors to their face. What are you doing? You've had the finished plan since 2012. You've had 30 more meetings. You gave it back to the Planning Commission? ... This is a disgusting mess. There was a consensus. ...Take the plan back, finish it and move on.
If the speakers were harsh on the supervisors, they were harsher on the county planning commissioners, especially its new super majority of builders and property rights activists. These commissioners made significant changes to the plan between January and last week when they turned it back over to the board. Speakers were particularly angry about votes to weaken stream protection and to remove the goal of a countywide trail system from the open space element, specifics they want to see supervisors put back in.
When public comments closed, supervisors said they got the message. Fifth District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg, one of the 3-2 majority who voted to send the GPU back to the planning commission, said, "I wouldn't do it again. It needs to come back to the board to finish the process." Fourth District Supervisor Virginia Bass agreed. "I'm taking responsibility," she said. "It didn't work." First District Supervisor Rex Bohn shrugged his shoulders and said if he were right all the time, he "would make sure you all got to keep your insurance," a swipe at the troubled rollout of the Affordable Care Act and completely off topic. (Supervisors Mark Lovelace and Estelle Fennell, representing the county's 3rd and 2nd districts, respectively, were in the minority in that January vote to send the GPU's Open Space and Conservation element to the planning commission.)
So on Monday, the supervisors did the right thing, took responsibility and made promises to finish the GPU job, right? So why am I still plenty worried?
Because last week I picked up a copy of the latest Humboldt Coalition for Property Rights publication inserted in the Times-Standard and it's a bit frightening. As readers will recall, HumCPR is one of several private corporations formed in recent years to influence public policy. They work outside any public scrutiny. The current planning commission has at least two HumCPR members — founder Lee Ulansey and former treasurer Robert Morris. I say at least, because HumCPR's member list is private. And we know that HumCPR has become a powerful political force, having successfully backed four of the five sitting supervisors' campaigns.
In the latest edition, HumCPR takes on water rights, frivolous lawsuits against the county (even though HumCPR initiated two of them), shaded parcels, trails and more water rights. They also have a Q&A with all five supervisors and the first question is, "What is your perspective on how the General Plan is coming along?"
Bohn says he "appreciates" the Planning Commission taking another look. Fennell is "happy with the progress." Bass says, "The majority of community members understands and appreciates the very deliberate process we are going through." And Sundberg is "very pleased with how we are progressing." Lovelace, the lone supervisorial candidate to withstand a challenger backed by HumCPR, said bluntly, "How's it going? Not good."
I'm with Mark on this one.
The only two supervisors up for reelection this year are Sundberg and Bass. I think they are probably unbeatable for many reasons I'll save for a future column. But I am very grateful that two challengers stepped forward last week. There will be contested races in both the 4th and 5th districts. There will be important questions asked and hopefully answered.
Right now we do not have a board of supervisors that adequately reflects the values of our Humboldt community. And we have a planning commission that's worse.
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