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Monthly Archives: January 2011
From the 1.12.11 issue. To read all the articles, SUBSCRIBE today.
Experts will be on-hand Wednesday, Jan. 19 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the McKinleyville Community Services District (MCSD) in order to answer any questions from residents regarding the revised Engineer’s Report on behalf of the Measure B Maintenance Assessment District, which will be going before the Board for adoption later that same evening.
The Measure B Maintenance Assessment District is a continuation of the District’s current Measure B, which built Azalea Hall and the McKinleyville Activity Center at Pierson Park as well as Hiller Sports Complex, and has provided for their maintenance over the past 17-years
The detailed engineer’s report shows exactly how the updated Measure B funds can and cannot be spent.
The open public workshops will be held at the MCSD Conference Room, 1656 Sutter Road in McKinleyville.
For more information, contact the District Office at 839-3251.
From the 1.12.11 issue. For all the articles, SUBSCRIBE today.
By Daniel Mintz
Press Staff Writer
The county’s Planning Commission has been told that a new regulatory proposal excessively restricts the lynch pin of the county’s economy – marijuana.
The Commission reviewed a draft of a new medical marijuana ordinance at its Jan. 6 meeting and quickly found out that growers and medical marijuana advocates are rallying to oppose it.
Marijuana cultivation was described as the county’s economic cornerstone – a contention that commissioners acknowledged as truth. But Community Development Services Director Kirk Girard said there’s also support for new restrictions.
“There are many people who say this ordinance doesn’t go far enough,” he told commissioners.
Covering residential growing and dispensaries, it’s only part of the county’s approach to new regulations. A more substantial and ground-breaking aspect will be setting rules for outdoor growing, a process that Girard said will take six months to a year.
During public comment, several medical marijuana advocates said the proposed ordinance circumvents medical marijuana rights and attacks what they described as the county’s marijuana-based economy.
Several of the speakers were from Southern Humboldt, an area of the county that has much at stake regarding the issue. Robert Sutherland told commissioners that the draft ordinance “unreasonably and prejudicially treats one form of agriculture with vastly stricter standards than any other form of agriculture” and advances “escalating warfare and renewed attack pandering to the petty resentments and prejudice of the past.”
Kim Nelson of the Humboldt Medical Marijuana Advisory Panel advocacy group said he doubted that any of the commissioners are involved in the marijuana industry but asked them just in case, drawing laughter from the audience and commissioners.
Nelson proposed the formation of an industry-based “cannabis council” and warned that a poorly-drafted ordinance will have financial effects.
“This is the economic base of the county and everyone knows it,” he said.
The county’s draft ordinance is heavily-influenced by what the City of Arcata adopted in 2008. Redway resident Charley Custer questioned the idea of copying what Arcata’s done.
“This draft, as you know, is taken from Arcata’s Nip It In the Bud campaign that was written to drive pot out of Arcata and now we want to take the ordinance that drives pot out of Arcata and make it countywide,” he said, adding that doing so will draw patients into “the county’s regulatory roach motel of title queries and property inspections.”
Greg Allen, the chairman of the county’s American Civil Liberties Union chapter, called marijuana the “economic lifeblood” of the county. “In this room, with this group, first steps are going to be made to nurture this economic lifeblood or to kill and I’m sure hoping that you folks will nurture it,” he told commissioners.
Commissioners advised audience members to work as a group and submit a version of an ordinance that they can support. The hearing was continued to the Feb. 3 meeting.
Two permit hearings for medical marijuana dispensaries – one proposed for a commercial building on Redwood Drive in Garberville and another on Myrtle Avenue in the greater Eureka area – were also continued to Feb. 3.
The county’s draft ordinance applies to personal cultivation in residential areas and to collectives, co-ops and dispensaries. It cuts per-patient growing area by half, to 50 square feet.
It names 1200 watts as a maximum lighting standard and mandates that “no visual, auditory or olfactory evidence” of cultivation” is allowed from public right-of-ways or neighboring houses.
Co-ops, dispensaries, collectives and delivery services are also regulated under the new ordinance. The total number of all of them is limited to 12 in the county. They’d need conditional use permits and would only be allowed in “specifically enumerated zones.”
None could be within a 600 foot radius of a school and the cumulative impacts of being within 500 feet of churches, schools, playgrounds, parks, libraries, residential treatment facilities and other dispensaries would be considered.
From the Jan. 5, 2011 issue. To read all of the articles and columns in the newspaper, subscribe today. Visit www.mckinleyvillepress.com.
By Elaine Weinreb
Press Staff Writer
As McKinleyville continues to grow, more and more people will need clean drinking water and reliable sewage treatment. The McKinleyville Community Services District (MCSD) has plans in place to meet these needs.
Coping with growth
Operations Manager Greg Orsini faces two challenges in his job – keeping up with McKinleyville’s growth and with the state’s ever-changing regulations.
“When the water distribution system and sewer collection system were designed, they were designed to manage a pre-determined density [of population],” said Orsini. “Since then the county has changed those densities, so depending on where those areas [of growth] are, the infrastructure will have to be upgraded.”
Orsini and General Manager Norman Shopay said that the County Planning Department, which is encouraging rapid growth in McKinleyville, is playing by a different set of rules than the MCSD.
“Our criteria is to make sure that we have adequate water and sewer for everybody in McKinleyville,” said Orsini. “Their criteria is to maintain what the state is forcing them to do, in terms of density.”
Shopay emphasized that the costs of upgrading would be borne by the developers, and not by MCSD’s ratepayers.
The MCSD board of directors will examine these developer “capacity fees” later this year, to make sure they match the real costs of upgrading the infrastructure.
More efficient pumps
A new, highly efficient pump system will distribute McKinleyville’s drinking water in 2011. The system is located at the Grant Ramey Pump Station on North bank Road, where the town receives its entire water supply from a pipe that crosses under the Mad River and connects to the Humboldt Bay Munincipal Water District.
“It will be substantially less expensive to pump a gallon of water with the new system than with the old system,” said Orsini. “The motor on the new pumps doesn’t have to run at full speed all the time. If the demand increases, the pump speed increases. You’re pumping to satisfy demand instead of pumping to fill the tanks up as fast as you can, so you use less electricity.”
At certain times of year, PG&E charges more money for electricity used during peak hours. With the new pumps, MCSD can schedule the pumping for off-peak hours, paying a lower rate for electricity.
The new pumps will also double MCSD’s capacity, enabling it to pump 4.2 million gallons of water per day.
More water storage tanks
“We want to add additional water storage tanks at Murray Road,” Shopay said. “We only have 24 hours in reserve water capacity if there’s a break in the pipeline under the river. We would like to have at least three to five days water supply, because if that pipe breaks, it’s not going to get fixed in 24 hours.”
During the coming year, engineers will study the site on Murray Road above the Beau pre Golf Course, and do a preliminary design for the tanks.
Pipeline over the Mad River Bridge
MCSD currently gets all its water from a single pipeline that runs under the Mad River from the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District treatment plant in Essex. As a back-up, MCSD is installing another pipeline over the Mad River Bridge, connecting its water system with the City of Arcata.
Ordinarily, the two systems will remain separate, but if either community should have an emergency and need extra water, each city will provide back-up for the other.
“We’re still exchanging letters with Arcata, asking for their support,” Shopay said. “We will proceed forward on placement of the pipeline in the bridge, even if we don’t have all the details worked out. It’s a one-time opportunity for us, and if we don’t do it, we’ll never get another chance.”
Emergency water wells
“We’re looking at the possibility of putting in emergency water wells that are close to our tank, so that if the pipeline breaks under the river, we have another alternate source of water,” Shopay said.
Fallout from the pulp mill closure
Over the past few decades, a large part of the costs of providing water to the public was picked up by the pulp mills on the Samoa Peninsula. When the last mill closed down, Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District was forced to charge its municipal customers, including MCSD, more money to fill the gap.
Humboldt Bay has advised MCSD that its rates will go up 15 percent this coming year. These rate increases will be passed on to MCSD’s retail customers, such as households and businesses.
Orsini said that MCSD is already doing a good job of removing pollutants from McKinleyville’s wastewater. The wastewater treatment marsh is now 90 percent covered by bulrushes, which filter out contaminants from the treated sewage water before it is released into the river or onto fields for irrigation.
The Regional Water Quality Board monitors the pollutants left in the wastewater, and has found that McKinleyville is well within acceptable limits. As a result, it has loosened its testing requirements, saving the MCSD $12,000 per month.
“We are one of the most compliant municipalities for our size,” Orsini said.
Orsini said that the old permit requirements were not enforceable, because the limits for certain contaminants were so low that labs did not have tests to detect them.
The old discharge standards for copper were so stringent that ordinary tap water would have flunked the test.
“We proved that the amount of copper we are discharging is not toxic to the life in the river,” Orsini said.
From the Dec. 29, 2010 issue of the McK Press. For all the articles and columns in the newspaper, please subscribe.
By Daniel Mintz
Press Staff Writer
The economy was the most attention-getting topic of 2010 and it influenced the county’s politics, policies and culture.
Many of the main events of the year would have played out differently if not for the recession, which made economic improvement a mandate.
Times would have been far worse if millions of dollars of federal stimulus money hadn’t been delivered, paying for hundreds of jobs through the end of September. Still, economic downturn was reflected in the county budget as timber yield, property tax and building permit fee revenues stagnated.
And predictably, there was political change.
A surge in liberal politics had been seen in Humboldt County and in 2010 it deflated along with the economy.
Improving the economy was the number one issue of the November election. And the conservative candidates who came across as being allied with business interests were the ones that were elected to the Board of Supervisors.
Ryan Sundberg and Virginia Bass won the fifth and fourth supervisorial district seats and both were criticized for taking contributions from an alliance of developers and construction-related business owners.
But in a slack economy, developers are the heroes, so the jibes may have backfired.
Bass replaced incumbent candidate Bonnie Neely, while Sundberg replaced Jill Duffy, who didn’t run for re-election. While Duffy’s political identity is difficult to pigeonhole, the later stages of Neely’s long run as a supervisor put her squarely in the liberal camp and the balance of power has shifted to the right.
That will have an effect on the General Plan Update particularly. If anyone is looking for a place where the power shift could show itself, they can start there.
Through the Update, the county will chart the scale of future development and people’s investments are at stake. Considering where their financial support came from, Bass’ and Sundberg’s votes on whether or not to make homebuilding on timberlands more restrictive, for example, aren’t hard to predict.
One stalwart of the county’s liberal glory days prevailed, however. District Attorney Paul Gallegos again proved his resiliency by gaining somewhat more than 50 percent of the vote against his challenger, Allison Jackson. The conflict between the two tread familiar ground, right down to second-guessing Gallegos’ decision-making on specific prosecutions. But given the choice between an incumbent DA who said he’s not beholden to police and the challenger who was supported by them, most people picked Gallegos.
This was the year that the county’s marijuana growers came up from the underground to react to the prospect of legalization and, apparently, vote against it. Proposition 19 showed that there’s a point where those who want to eliminate marijuana and those who produce it meet, and that’s on the question of whether it should be legalized. Maybe there’s plenty of cultivators who voted for legalization but if one looks at the results from Southern Humboldt, the county’s marijuana breadbasket, the message seems clear – keep the market in the black, in legal terms and economically.
It wasn’t just growers who feared the effects of legalization and through Prop. 19, the influence of the county’s marijuana economy got some light shed on it. As with other industries, the dark side was talked about too, with home invasion robberies, generator spills and neighborhood fire risks being cited in calls for crackdowns.
The county responded by drafting a new and more restrictive medical marijuana ordinance, which was released earlier this month and only applies to personal indoor grows and the permitting of dispensaries.
The year also saw groups of marijuana growers emerging to lobby for an outdoor growing regulatory structure, one that will allow the county to better develop its medical marijuana industry. The response to that has yet to come but the county has indicated that the recently-unveiled medical marijuana ordinance is the first of several.
General Plan Update
In the midst of the year, the Board of Supervisors declared a now-forgotten deadline for the Planning Commission’s review of the General Plan Update. November 18 was to be the date that the Commission would finish its work but its members essentially rejected the edict to speed things up and several chapters of the Update await.
Complaints that it’s taken too long are understandable but so, too, is the length of time that’s been taken. For each thorny topic multiple issues are debated and well-funded advocacy groups are prepared to push their stances in courtrooms if necessary.
Even the speedier schedule was argued about, as those who are doing much of the arguing said their input would be sacrificed if things went faster. Planning commissioners agreed that the timeline was unfeasible, at last achieving unity after being split on the most pressing issues of the Update’s chapters on forestry and agricultural resources. Most of the division was over the balance between agricultural and timber productivity and landowners’ desires to subdivide and develop their parcels.
The Update’s Housing Element, which is renewed every five years for state review, was also fertile territory for conflict. The Element’s completion in the spring of 2009 was followed a year later by demands from the state to revise it. Realtors and developers groups argued that the county’s inventory of developable land is generally overstated but the state has more specific concerns. It’s become apparent that the county, like many others in the state, hasn’t kept pace with the demand for affordable and low income housing. And that made this cycle’s Housing Element a particularly tough one to come to grips with.
The Element’s implementation measures will trigger the Update’s most intense controversies. A recently-passed state law requires that areas be designated for principally permitted homeless shelters and transitional housing. Similar requirements are in effect for multifamily housing.
The county’s remedy for its low income housing shortfall is outlined in the Housing Element and it will ignite mass discontent in early 2011. Sometime in February or so, the county will roll out its plan to rezone properties for high density, low income housing.
An uproar is expected and it will be one of the upcoming year’s most newsworthy happenings.
The Marine Life
In a coastal community like Humboldt, it’s no surprise that MLPA implementation would be met with sharply-phrased but compelling opposition from a variety of people who use the ocean. But the county’s also famed for its environmental consciousness and its champions of habitat conservation would be expected take their advocacy to sea.
They didn’t. If anyone at all argued in favor of the MLPA, they didn’t do it assertively. And there was only one proposal for a network of Marine Protected Areas from a regional stakeholders group – the one that puts MPAs mostly in lightly-fished areas widely spaced from each other. Without an alternate proposal from conservationists, the burden of arguing for more habitat protection falls squarely on the Department of Fish and Game.
The consensus proposal is a one of a kind phenomenon and it’s been called a remarkable achievement. But it hasn’t achieved what it was expected to, which is to map an MPA network that meets science guidelines for size, spacing and habitat replication.
When the state’s Fish and Game Commission meets in February to begin decision-making on North Coast MPAs, it will make a choice it hasn’t been faced with before – to accept the desires of a united community in a process that’s been touted as consensus-driven, or to heed the advice of the DFG and give the people what they don’t want for the sake of having a functional MPA network.