Dispatches from the Housing Element – Part II

By Mary Ella Anderson

I and my fellow housing advocates were pleasantly surprised at the outcome of the second session of Housing Element discussion at the Board of Supervisors on Monday, May 5, Was it the constant dogging or the way pending elections have of focusing the mind of candidates? Either way, cooler heads prevailed and the result is a HE that has a good chance of passing muster at the state level.

A lot of credit for this outcome must go to staff, to Michael Richards, Director Hamblin and Assistant Counsel Ruth. Richardson has incorporated comments from the state HCD and after much discussion, mid-point density was returned at least to Housing Opportunity Zones. In the discussion, it appeared that mid-point density, being a mathematical formula, is confusing to most, especially builders and real estate agents. It has always been the case that the number of housing units on a parcel can be reduced for good cause, but the CPR Planning Commission was threatened by the idea of mid-point density and wanted to essentially encourage less density in housing. Housing for All attorney Jan Turner characterized their proposal as “an anti-housing element” and in the end mid-point density was retained.

Counsel Ruth reminded the Supervisors that the EIR for the HE is based on encouraging development in areas with sewer and water, and that while extending development beyond services might be “okay” the goal should be to encourage less development outside HOZs. The figure of 75% development within HOZs was mentioned as the goal, leaving a quarter of the whole for those areas outside sewer/water districts.

Supervisor Lovelace noted that development of smaller scale housing complexes outside of HOZs still consumes land, and that building fewer units meant more land consumption. The idea of planning is to leave something for the future.

Solar shading protection for existing housing was also kept. As I understand it, the right to a share of the sun for people and their gardens can’t be taken away by new development. At least, not without a chance for the homeowner to lodge an objection.

Also, county building standards will now allow housing units as small as 150 square feet. These smaller, efficiency units, are seen as a wave of the future as younger people don’t seem quite as enchanted with mansions and palaces as their elders have been.

Speaking for the Farm Bureau John Laboyteaux and Katherine Zeimer made it clear to the supervisors that the farm community did not want the proposal to allow second units on AE land included, They said that all agricultural groups in the county were opposed to the idea. Laboyteaux said that the least the HE should do is “to make it possible for us to continue to feed ourselves” and that “the primary purpose of AE land is to grow food.” Tina Christensen of the Humboldt Association of Realtors defended the idea of changing the rules to allow second units on AE and TPZ land without the need for a Conditional Use Permit, but in the end the supervisors were persuaded to leave things as they are. Supervisor Bass, however, indicated she might raise the issue again later on.

Staff will put everything together and have it ready by the Board of Supervisors’ meeting of May 13 at which time they should pass it formally. Only straw votes were taken at the Monday meeting, so nothing is set in concrete yet. Eternal vigilance is recommended.

P.S. Jon , if you post this separately , please correct my name – it’s Mary Ella, not Mary Ellen. Thanks for your interest and being so supportive.

9 thoughts on “Dispatches from the Housing Element – Part II

  1. So sorry again Mary Ella (not Ellen)! And thank you so much, this is so informative and I think it does demonstrate that even a modicum of attention can focus minds and Boards! This is great news given where the PC was headed, especially on densities. Thank you so much for the invaluable, clear and accessible reporting!

    1. Thank you Julie. It’s confusing, because I don’t know how to adust Word Press, but it’s actually Mary Ella Anderson who wrote that as a comment yesterday. Thanks again Julie and Mary Ella

  2. Anonymous says:

    Reporting like this is in the public interest, yet, it appears nowhere else in the detail required to understand its relevance to our lives and our community.

    Far from “conspiracy”, media self-censorship is a reflexive (historic) resistance to tip-toeing into their advertiser’s private playpen where future fortunes are determined. (Larger homes deliver larger profits, and the general public is handed the infrastructure bill for homes they’ll never qualify to own in communities lacking affordable housing downtown).

    As we can see, these meetings are, in fact, entertaining in their power-plays, exposing which interests are advocating for specific changes, and why.

    This is the intrigue, irony and injustice that journalists once hungered for and what the public requires to be informed, active citizens.

  3. Mary Ella Anderson says:

    I had a conversation at Farmer’s Market yesterday along the same lines. Someone who used to work the school district where I lived lamented the fact that no one covered the Office of Education here in the way that I used to cover school board meetings for the school district in Southern Humboldt. Things like school board meetings and meetings of various entities like the city council if there was one and, down where I worked, community service district meetings were the basic items of reporting in local weekly newspapers. These entities, along with planning commissions and boards of supervisors, do the community’s business and what they do directly impacts the lives of the people who live in those communities. I think the ideal of a Democratic society would be that ordinary people attend these meetings and are interested in what goes on in the, or at least reading about what goes on in them, but I don’t think that’s really true. The majority of people are more interested in what’s happening on television than what’s happening at school board meetings or planning commission meetings – unless the body in question has done something that gets their attention because it impacts some part of their life. Most public participation in public business is crisis driven, and without background knowledge or some history of how the body functions, the public brings little more than suspicion and outrage to the process.

    We don’t live in a society where the average citizen thinks much about the commons or what’s involved in building a good economy and a good community. Most people are too busy trying to earn enough to keep a roof over their head, get their kids through school, pay off their mortgage, and stay on top of the daily chores of life. The best they can do is read the newspaper to try and keep up on what’s going on that might affect them. But newspapers are as stressed out as the average family. In the case of the Times-Standard, they have a corporate overlord that expects them to produce ever increasing profits to satisfy the corporate board of directors and investors. After a certain point, the only way to increase profits is to cut staff and increase advertising. Keeping people well informed is a secondary goal at best. The closest thing we have to an investigative paper, the North Coast Journal, is constrained by the same economy that the rest of us are struggling with. They have to watch their costs, make decisions about what they can afford to cover, and maintain the advertising revenue that is their sole source of support. The Mad River Union is one of the small town weeklies and they do cover their local school board, but you can be certain their neither Kevin Hoover or Jack Durham are making the big bucks. They also have to make hard decisions to stay within the budget that allows them to continue publishing.

    I write about the GPU and the Housing Element because I covered it for the Redwood Times for a number of years, just like I covered the school board. Both took time to get into. I had to learn the jargon and the players and the process so I could explain it accurately when I wrote about it. It’s only after you’ve covered something for a while that you can get the subtleties and nuances of what’s unfolding. I really appreciate that a few people are reading it and getting something out of it. So thanks to Anonymous and to Jon.

  4. Mary Ella Anderson says:

    Heads up! Hum CPR and the Realtor/Contractor interests are expected to push for a reinstatement of second units in rural areas as a solution to providing low income housing. This is a thoroughly discredited idea and one that will sink the Housing Element and leave the county in limbo. The public hearing for what should be the final approval of the HE before it goes off to the State HCD is scheduled for the afternoon session tomorrow, Tuesday, May 13.

    1. Anonymous says:

      Where is it discredited, and what’s wrong with a pilot program? Are you afraid it might work or what?

  5. Anonymous says:

    “The majority of people are more interested in what’s happening on television than what’s happening at school board meetings or planning commission meetings – unless the body in question has done something that gets their attention because it impacts some part of their life”

    “After a certain point, the only way to increase profits is to cut staff and increase advertising. Keeping people well informed is a secondary goal at best.”

    With all due respect, you can’t have it both ways Mary!

    You’ve already illustrated by your brief reporting how these board, commission and element meetings impact our lives and the riveting drama behind the competing public versus private interests and what the long-term costs are.

    Unless Humboldt County’s “Joe Sixpack” had access to a weekly report about how many of his neighbors continue to face foreclosure and bankruptcy since the 2008 collapse, there’s no rational way to claim that he’s more interested in TV.

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