Supervisors Outsource General Plan Update To Unelected Special Interest Groups – November 14, 2012
HUMBOLDT – A majority of supervisors has once again voted to suspend work on the county’s General Plan Update, saying that it might be done better by a newly-formed stakeholders group.
In response, the yet to be named group released a collective statement clarifying that “we intend for this group’s process to move alongside, not in place of, the Supervisors’ deliberations on the General Plan Update.”
The Board of Supervisors began its review of the update last June with an initial goal of getting it done by mid-July. Progress has lurched and recent hearings have been mired in extensive debates over the update’s scale and its approval process.
The Community Services and Infrastructure Element saw some action, however, after Supervisor Ryan Sundberg unsuccessfully recommended its elimination. Supervisors began reviewing its policies and that work was expected to continue at a Nov. 5 hearing.
But the formation of a new stakeholders group made up of the divergent groups that have lobbied for different planning approaches has inadvertently triggered another halt. After Lee Ulansey of the Humboldt Coalition of Property Rights and Dan Ehresman of the Healthy Humboldt Coalition announced a group effort “to collaboratively identify areas of agreement and resolve disagreements if possible,” supervisors entered another circular debate that eclipsed the work on the hearing’s agenda.
Sundberg said he wanted to give the new group a chance to organize so it can review the update. He recommended cancelling a hearing set for that evening and one on Nov. 8 and continuing both to early December.
A discussion on the idea sputtered and was taken up again during the evening hearing. Supervisors decided not to cancel any hearings and resumed their review of the Infrastructure Element’s policies.
But doing that apparently didn’t sit well with some supervisors and at the Nov. 8 hearing, Sundberg quickly made a motion to end the meeting and continue it to Dec. 3. He said he prefers to let the stakeholders group do a policy-by-policy review of the update and bring the results forward.
Ehresman had told supervisors the group’s intent is to start its work with the Circulation Element, which follows the Infrastructure Element. Supervisor Mark Lovelace said the new group’s formation shouldn’t have an effect on the update’s work schedule.
“To abdicate our responsibility, when we haven’t even had any view of what they’re going to bring forward – it’s far too early to make that kind of assumption,” he continued.
Board Chairman Virginia Bass had doubts about going ahead with more work. “At the last meeting, it was very tedious and it felt like we were really invested in wordsmithing, for whatever reason,” she said. “I’m looking at today, going, ‘We have, like, 40 (policies) to go through … I don’t see us finishing this at this time.”
Supervisor Clif Clendenen noted that the board majority had rejected a staff recommendation to stick to a so-called “short list” of controversial policies and instead chose to do a complete review. “This is a tedium of our own making,” he said.
He pushed for using the rest of the hearing to do more work. But Sundberg said having the stakeholders group do it is the best way to get it done. “I think it would be extremely, way more efficient to have that group get together and go over this,” he continued, adding that the policies the group has disagreements over could be the ones the board handles.
Supervisor Rex Bohn liked the idea and he countered Lovelace’s previous comment. “I don’t think there’s anybody up here trying to abdicate their job, I think they’re trying to enhance the process,” he said. “And I know we like to use those fancy buzz words and then apologize for them afterwards, but I mean – I’m the guy who’s supposed to be saying the wrong stuff up here.”
Bohn added that “this has been a lousy process and we don’t have anything after 12 years” but quickly clarified, “We have a lot but we don’t have anything cohesive that everybody can agree on.”
Bass suggested that supervisors discuss and ask questions about the Infrastructure Element without actually reviewing it. “I don’t see any point in doing that,” said Clendenen, who recommended that a vote be taken on Sundberg’s motion.
At Bass’ request, supervisors voted on whether or not they should vote on the motion. There was unanimous agreement to do so and Sundberg’s motion to continue the hearing to Dec. 3 was approved with a 3-2 vote, with Lovelace and Clendenen dissenting.
The day after the meeting, Lovelace commented on the situation on his Facebook page. “This is the fifth meeting since August where my board has chosen to not do the work we have before us on the General Plan Update,” he wrote. “I am hopeful that the various interest groups that are now working together may be able to find some areas of agreement but their private closed-door discussions shouldn’t be allowed to circumvent our public process.”
Shortly afterward, the stakeholders group released a media statement. “We want to clarify that the only intent of the working group is to coalesce and streamline input on the General Plan Update to the Board of Supervisors from key stakeholder groups, starting with the Circulation Element,” it read. “We do not intend to be any kind of substitute for public process.”