As I wrote in this column last week, I've been having flashbacks.
I started as a reporter for the Arcata Union in 1981 covering the perennially contentious Humboldt County Board of Supervisors, my favorite assignment. Once in a while, the county planning commission beat overlapped, too, and, always, politics. After 33 years, I'm mostly retired, running the business end of the Journal part-time. Once in a while — casually reading news reports, scratching my head — I wonder just what the heck has been going on. Like why can't we seem to get the General Plan Update completed like we did the last time — in 1984? (I was there.)
"Why don't you quit whining and go back to being a cub reporter?" my husband suggested a few weeks back. So last Tuesday, I showed up at the supervisors chambers at 9 a.m., remembering not to park in a two-hour zone by the courthouse. I sat through interesting presentations from the Humboldt County Convention and Visitors Bureau and KEET-TV. I had to duck out before the Headwaters Fund discussion.
In the afternoon, I watched the Board of Supervisors approve $10,600 more and shuffle some other salary funds around retroactively to pay for all these extra planning commission GPU hearings — two per week — that have been going on since January. They're held at night. I feel sincerely sorry for commissioners who have to get back in their cars after work and drive up to an hour or more each way to serve on this panel — for just a small stipend. I feel sorry for members of the public who have to do the same, to watch sausage being made, to be ever vigilant and ready to jump up and testify, hoping to sway that critical vote, on an issue they are passionate about. I feel much less sorry for those who are basically paid to be there: staff, of course, and the ever-present lobbyists for real estate developers and building contractors, and I guess that includes paid staff of some area nonprofits.
The supervisors that day also heard complaints under public comments from people unhappy with what's going on at the planning commission since Jan 13. That's the date the Board of Supervisors inexplicably returned the GPU back to the commissioners for more hearings. As you will see by the timeline below, the commission had finished more than a decade of work — in 2012 — and sent the GPU to the Board of Supervisors for action.
So what have the commissioners been up to with the GPU since January? On the night of Feb. 18, they did something very foolish, at least to those of us who have been paying intermittent attention for these past 14 years: They voted to remove the "goal" of a countywide trail system from the GPU. The meeting two nights later — Feb. 20 — was well attended by angry trail advocates. I made a point to go to the following meeting, Feb. 27, figuring people would still be mad. I was right. (See my report in "Blogjammin'" in this edition).
Planning Commissioner Lee Ulansey is fond of saying, "Isn't this great — all this public interest. ... Good government depends on public participation! ... This is terrific!"
Not necessarily. When that public is there because you screw up and they're mad, that's not good. I know this from experience. I was on the Fieldbrook Elementary School Board in the 1970s, happy to serve. We worked away on budgets and school policies with barely two people yawning in the audience each month. Then we passed a new policy altering the school starting hours, since we were getting crowded and had traffic jams. We decided kindergartners should start at one time, grades 1-3 another, etc. Apparently we screwed up. The next month we had an auditorium packed with unhappy parents. We learned they had two or more kids in school, all starting and being picked up at different times, resulting in chaos to family life.
So what other votes have the commissioners been making since getting their hands on the GPU in January? Well, how about changing tiny, important words in order to pretty much gut the General Plan, to make it as toothless as possible? With Ulansey clearly driving the bus, the commission has been changing the word "shall" to the word "may."
"shall" (in laws, directives, etc.) must; is or are obliged to: "The meetings of the council shall be public."
"may" (used to express possibility): "It may rain."
Or, it may not rain.
Who is Ulansey and why the hubris? (dictionary.com: "hubris" excessive pride or self-confidence; arrogance.) Well, we all know he is the founder of Humboldt Coalition for Property Rights (HumCPR, a political-action type of private corporation, private membership list, private funds) and he was Estelle Fennell's boss for three years before she was elected supervisor. Last year he was rewarded, some would say, with a seat on the planning commission. Here's an interesting fact: Five of these seven commissioners, including Ulansey, are new — meaning they were sworn in sometime during the last 13 months, long after the GPU was sent to the Board of Supervisors. This is an important fact to remember.
Here is the timeline and why the public should be upset at the excessive amount of time and money this process has consumed: This is 2014. The Board of Supervisors has had the completed draft of the General Plan Update since May 2012. Rex Bohn replaced Jimmy Smith in the fall of 2012. Estelle Fennell took her seat in January 2013. Fine. There was important work in progress. They had to catch up, but they have now had more than a year to do so. And they've had 30 to 40 meetings during that time specifically on the GPU. Those hearings are in addition to the 100 (no exaggeration) hearings already held by the planning commission. These meetings cost money. And time. And increase public frustration.
It's time we told our supervisors: Enough! We elected you, not these new planning commissioners. (Commissioners are appointed.) The draft plan was completed and has been awaiting your action for a year and a half. Pass the GPU. Do NOT send this back to the planning commission because, by their actions to date, it is clear the commissioners intend to start the GPU process all over again — to rewrite the Plan and scrap the one passed by the planning commission in 2012.
Apparently we're going to get our chance to discuss this Monday. The Board of Supervisors has set yet another GPU public hearing for Monday, March 10 at 1:30 p.m. in the supervisors chambers of the county courthouse. I will be there with my cub reporter hat on.
If you can't be there —some people actually have to work on Monday afternoon — please drop your supervisor an email. Here are their addresses: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.
Once the Board passes the GPU, the planning commission will be required to check the document for "consistency" as required by law.