Future Visions

From the Feb. 9, 2011 edition. To read all the articles, SUBSCRIBE,
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By Daniel Mintz
Press Staff Writer

What’s the use of making plans for the year 2050, some might say, but at a community workshop in Eureka they were told that future visions can inform near-future policymaking.
A community visioning project known as Imagine Humboldt! wrapped up its initial series of workshops with one at Eureka’s Wharfinger Building on Feb. 2. About 50 residents were asked to look ahead 40 years, when population here is expected to increase by 24,500 people, and offer their ideas on how to plan for housing, transportation, natural resources and other needs.
Funded by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and carried out by the multi-jurisdictional Humboldt County Association of Governments, the project taps community opinions on the direction the county should follow as it grows.
“This should give us the ability to track progress,” said meeting facilitator Kathleen Moxon. “It should allow us to watch decisions as they’re being made and really judge whether those decisions are taking us toward the vision we all created together or potentially veering off, away from that vision.”
Moxon emphasized that Imagine Humboldt! is not a conventional planning process and “lacks force of law.” She described the goal of the project as “trying to create a vision that will influence policy decision-makers,”
Online surveys at http://www.imaginehumboldt.com will include more people than the workshops can, Moxon added.
Later, workshop participants jotted their ideas on various planning topics on post-it notes and discussed them. Answering a question about the relevance of long-range visioning, Moxon pointed out that transformational projects can take a long time to develop.
“Infrastructure takes a long time and we’ve got to do the best we can to put things in motion that create viable communities that people want to live in,” she said.
Another audience member asked about Caltrans’ influence. Caltrans Planner Leishara Ward said her agency is only providing funding. And she told the audience that the true value of looking ahead to 2050 has more to do with the present tense than the future.
“The process has been more beneficial to the regions than even the data that they’re finding, because of the conversations that they’re having,” she said. Ward added that the various cities and areas of the county are becoming more aware of community desires and “they’re trying to address what they’re hearing.”
The Planwest Partners consulting firm is coordinating the project and based on the content of the workshops and surveys, it will create “future scenarios” and describe their impacts.
Residents will consider those scenarios and comment on them in a second round of community workshops.
The preferences of audience members were gauged in an electronic voting process. Multiple choice questions were asked and responses were logged using hand-held electronic gadgets.
Economic development was voted as the highest priority for the future. Improving “connectivity” via trials, public transit and sidewalks was voted as the most important way to improve mobility.
Asked to assess the county’s performance in planning for the future, most people – 51 percent – said it’s been “poor.”

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