From the June 30, 2010 issue:
By Daniel Mintz
Press Staff Writer
A majority of the Planning Commission has indicated support for a General Plan Update policy that promotes county opposition to eminent domain land purchases by state and federal agencies.
The wording of the policy was supported by a majority of the Commission during its June 24 review of the Update’s public lands section. It states that the county “shall not support state or federal (land) acquisitions” that are done through eminent domain processes but names exceptions, including the need for eminent domain actions to protect public health, safety and welfare.
Eminent domain allows government purchases of land whether property owners agree to them or not, as long as they’re done at “fair market value.”
Regarding land buys, Supervising Planner Tom Hofweber told commissioners that the county has written letters to the state opposing its parkland acquisitions of farm and timberlands.
But Commissioner Ralph Faust, a former attorney for the state’s Coastal Commissioner, said the county can’t stop state and federal eminent domain actions.
“To think that we can actually do something, to legally mandate the actions of state and federal agencies is simply wrong – it’s constitutionally wrong and it’s legally wrong,” he continued. He described the county as a “creature of the state,” one that can “do no more or no less than the legislature allows it to do.”
Faust added that it would be more constructive to define the county’s role as attempting to “build cooperative relationships rather than thumbing our nose and telling them that we think we know what’s best for them.”
Commissioner Dennis Mayo disagreed. “I’d never suggest thumbing our noses at state or federal agencies but I have suggested that they don’t thumb their nose at us many times,” he said.
Mayo also opposed the wording of a related policy that would have the county support land buys that are included in the “adopted management plans” of state and federal agencies. He said some of those purchases could be harmful to the community and cited the Marine Life Protection Act as an example.
“It’s going to be an adopted management plan and it’s going to just devastate this community,” he said, adding that similar actions are done on a land use level that he strongly disagrees with.
“If you’re trying to import the sagebrush rebellion to Humboldt County, I think you’re just spitting in the wind,” said Faust. But when it came to a straw vote on the eminent domain policy, he was in the minority.
The commission was split, however, on the wording of a policy that defines public access to natural areas and waterways.
Mayo and Commission Chairman Jeffrey C. Smith wanted the definition expanded to accommodate “multiple modes” of access, including vehicles and ATVs.
“I think it’s discriminatory for us to develop a public access policy that doesn’t provide at least for the possibility of motorized or OHV (Off-Highway Vehicle) uses,” said Mayo.
Although he acknowledged the impacts of “bad actors,” Smith said that motorized vehicles don’t cause damage. “ATVs by their very design have the ability to put very low ground pressure down – much less than, frankly, the human foot,” he said. “So it can be a responsible method of transportation in the hinterlands.”
Mayo, Smith and Commissioner Denver Nelson supported the motorized vehicle accommodation while Faust, Commissioner Mary Gearhart and Commissioner Mel Kreb supported the policy’s staff-recommended language, which broadly encourages “maximum public access.”
Commissioner Bruce Emad was not at the meeting, but at the commission’s June 17 meeting, he had said that specifying access to motorized vehicles is troublesome.
The commission continued the hearing to its July 8 meeting.