After nearly two hours of public testimony — most of it lambasting the recent activities of the Planning Commission — the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors today reached a rare and refreshing consensus on an issue pertaining to the general plan update: Sending part of it back to the Planning Commission was a bad idea.

“If I had to do it over, I wouldn’t have made that decision,” 5th District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg admitted.

On Jan. 13, the board voted 3-2 (with supervisors Mark Lovelace and Estelle Fennell dissenting) to send the entire Conservation and Open Space element back to the Planning Commission for a re-review. (A previous incarnation of the Planning Commission already reviewed that element in 2011 and submitted its recommendations to the board.)

In sending the element back for another look, the board gave planning commissioners 45 days to get through a “short list” of 13 goals and policies it felt needed reconsideration. However, the board also gave the commission leeway to delve into whichever other policies it saw fit.

By the time the 45-day window closed, the commission had only gotten through six of the 13 policies on the “short list,” and the public was riled up about the changes it did make — especially deleting language in support of a countywide trail system and reducing the size of wetland buffer zones.

“I truly thought it was going to be a quicker process, less controversial,” Sundberg continued this afternoon. “I watched some of the tapes of [Planning Commission meetings] and quickly realized that wasn’t going to happen.”

Fourth District Supervisor Virginia Bass chimed in next, saying she agreed with a public commenter who said the board should take responsibility for this phase of the general plan update. “I’m taking responsibility,” she said. “I thought it would work; it didn’t. It was a failed effort.”

With each special meeting costing between $900 and $928, according to staff, that failed effort cost close to $7,500 in scarce county funds.

Fennell, the county’s 2nd District supervisor, reminded folks that she didn’t want to send the element back in the first place, but she also defended the general plan work that the board has done thus far. 

“I think we’ve done a very good job, in many instances reaching consensus and teasing things out to achieve the balance we’ve all been talking about,” Fennell said.

Fennell took some heat during the public comment period, with a number of speakers chastising her for appointing her former boss — and co-founder of property rights corporation HumCPR — Lee Ulansey Bob Morris to the Planning Commission. The other HumCPR co-founder, Bob Morris Lee Ulansey, also sits on the current Planning Commission, having been appointed by a majority of the board to an at-large position. Several speakers said both men should be removed.

Fennell wrapped up her comments by saying, “I think it’s important we take this plan back, take responsibility, do the job we were elected to do, and move forward.”

Lovelace chimed in next with a single word: “Agreed.” His brevity sparked appreciative laughter from the public.

“That’s basically what I was going to say,” added 1st District Supervisor Rex Bohn, who admitted that he, too, was wrong in voting to send the element back to the Planning Commission. “If I was 100 percent right I wouldn’t be sitting here; I’d be making sure you guys all got to keep your insurance,” he quipped. “But that’s not the way it works out.”

Before calling a 10-minute recess, Bohn waxed poetic, suggesting that for all the vitriol and controversy over this process, we noble Humboldtians aren’t so different after all. “All of us have little parcels of this earth we call home,” he said. He even went so far as to compliment some of his regular critics on their eloquence.

“The thing is, we agree on a lot of stuff,” Bohn declared. “The main thing [to keep] in mind is compassion for Humboldt and the respect for each other. I think we’re gonna do a lot better. You’ll look back 10 years from now, and we’re gonna be fine.”

And if something similar was said 10 years ago, the room was polite enough not to mention it.

The next Board of Supervisors hearing on the general plan is scheduled for March 24.