McKinleyville turns a page towards a brighter future

Preview of opinion column from the Dec. 5, 2012 edition.

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Something wonderful and beautiful happened Nov. 28 in McKinleyville – citizens and county officials got together and discussed zoning issues, child care centers and local road projects.
People who live in incorporated communities like Arcata and Eureka might snicker and respond with a sarcastic “whoop-dee-frickin’-doo.” But that’s because they’ve been able to have these discussions all along. They’re able to help shape their own towns.
But for McKinleyville, this is a new thing. As an unincorporated town, McKinleyville is at the mercy of the county when it comes to land use planning, zoning and roads.
It’s not uncommon for residents to find out about road projects at the point that the jackhammers hit the pavement, or sometimes after the plans have already been finalized.
As for planning, the county has a history of seeking the town’s input after it’s already decided what it’s going to do. (County: This is what we’re going to do in McKinleyville. We’d like your input so we can file it away, but we’re going to do what we’re going to do, so your testimony is really a waste of time. You’re better off staying home and watching “Cupcake Wars.”)
But now McKinleyville has a Municipal Advisory Committee (McKMAC). The committee is made up of local Macktowners. In attendance at last week’s meeting were representatives of the county Planning and Building Department, including its new head honcho Kevin Hamblin. Fifth District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg was in attendance, along with several McKinleyville residents.
There were a lot of good discussions. If this were a one-time meeting, it probably wouldn’t mean much. But there are meetings every month. The county is going to get a lot of input from this point forward. McKinleyville is going to have much more information and influence over projects and services provided by the County of Humboldt to McKinleyville. This is a good thing.

Child Care

Hats off to Hilary Mosher for bringing an important issue before the McKMAC – the permitting requirements for preschools and child care centers.
Mosher pointed out that child care centers are treated differently than others businesses.
If you want to open an insurance agency, a real estate office, a newspaper, or a clothing boutique in McKinleyville’s business district, all you need to do is find a vacant storefront, obtain a business license and open your doors, more or less.
That’s because most of these businesses are considered “principally permitted” by the county. They’re allowed in the business district, so there’s no need for special permits.
That’s not so with child care centers. They must obtain a conditional use permit. That involves slapping down about $2,000 at the county’s Planning Department and going through a lengthy approval process. All of this involves beaucoup bucks, being that the center may be leasing a building while it awaits its permit.
The zoning in McKinleyville needs to be changed to make it more friendly for child care businesses. They should be principally permitted in the business district, with conditional use permits only required for large facilities with lots of children.
But what about residential neighborhoods? This is where it gets sticky.
If you live in a residential area and someone decides to open a child care center next door to you or down the street, you may have legitimate concerns that need to be addressed in the conditional use permit process.
That doesn’t mean that you’re against the child care center. It means that you want issues to be dealt with, like traffic and parking. Maybe you have concerns about the hours of operation.
Perhaps you live on one of McKinleyville’s private gravel roads. If a child care center moves in down the street, might it be reasonable to require the owner to take responsibility for the additional potholes that will be created by the additional traffic? Maybe signs reminding drivers to slow down need to be installed. Maybe speed bumps are warranted. Maybe there could be some consideration as to where the child care center places its playground, so it’s not next to your bedroom window.
But what about child care centers located in agricultural areas? Should they be required to get conditional use permits?
The McKinleyville Municipal Advisory Committee needs to consider all of these factors. It’s not an easy issue, but one thing is clear – McKinleyville can do better.

Better off with a loan shark?

Hank Sims over at the Lost Coast Outpost website broke the story last week – the McKinleyville Union High School District is going to pay $57 million in order to receive $4.2 million.
What the heck?
Sims was writing about several school districts and their bond financing. But McKinleyville’s bond financing stood out.
Sims wrote “The case of the McKinleyville Union School District is especially striking. In 2008, residents of the district just barely approved Measure C, which authorized the district’s board of trustees to offer up to $14 million in bonds. (The measure required a 55 percent yes vote to pass.) Of that, the board elected to offer $4.2 million in the form of capital appreciation bonds. Since that debt was structured over a 40-year period, with interest accruing all the while, taxpayers in the district will eventually be on the hook for over 13 times that amount — a stunning $57 million in total.”
If you live in McKinleyville, you’re paying for this. The district levies property owners $30 per $100,000 of their properties’s assessed value (what the county Taxman says your property is worth.) Landlords pass on their expenses when determining rental rates, so nobody gets off the hook here.
We’ll have more on this in a coming issue.
(You can email Jack at news@mckinleyvillepress.com or converse with him at the McKinleyville Press Facebook page.)

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