Local jobs and public revenues are being lost due to outdated coastal zoning designations that prevent the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation & Conservation District from leasing its property and providing economic development opportunities for our community. The Harbor District and our leasing agent have turned away many prospective tenants ranging from manufacturers to wholesale distributors because of this restriction on land use.
Other private and public coastal property owners in the City of Eureka and in the county are being impacted as well. We can’t speak for them, but we know that the Harbor District is losing out on rental income needed to support the existing infrastructure because of this barrier; and just as importantly, local residents are losing out on potential jobs.
We’re also alarmed at the declining state of many industrial buildings around Humboldt Bay as they sit vacant. Without tenants to use and maintain them, these important industrial assets, like the buildings, infrastructure and docks at former pulp mills, are deteriorating. These buildings and their associated electric, water, sewer and road infrastructure need to be utilized immediately or they risk becoming degraded to the point where they cannot be used at all.
Here’s the problem. The Harbor District’s 140-plus acres of property on the Samoa Peninsula are designated “coastal-dependent industrial” (CDI) in the Humboldt Bay Area Plan. CDI properties can only be used by tenants that directly require access to the bay, such as fishing, aquaculture, shipping, fuel terminals and facilities for offshore oil rigs.
Even uses most would consider CDI-compliant – such as wood-products manufacturers by the bay (i.e. pulp and lumber mills) – are currently determined to be non-compliant and thus cannot be sited on CDI land. One local company that manufactures posts for vineyards wanted to lease from us. Since they only ship by truck, they didn’t qualify — even though they hope to increase their sales enough to ship by sea in the future.
The district supports the goal and intentions behind preserving CDI zoning — to maintain essential coastal industrial land for shipping and other uses that require access to the sea. One day, some new type of business we can barely imagine now — perhaps wave energy generators — will need some of this land, and we want much of it to remain available for the future.
With over 1,300 acres of CDI-designated land on Humboldt Bay (compared to 950 acres for the Port of Oakland), and only about four percent or 50 acres in permitted use areas, we have a huge surplus of land reserved for coastal-dependent uses. The City of Eureka recently had an independent market study done which indicated that less than 10 percent (19 acres) of CDI-designated land in the city would be needed for coastal-dependent uses in the next 20 years!
Humboldt County — which has zoning jurisdiction over the Harbor District’s property — is now evaluating future needs for CDI land, and the next update of the local coastal plan will likely include proposals to change CDI designations on many parcels to more general commercial and industrial zoning.
Based on what we have seen, that process will likely take years.
That is why the district is seeking the ability to lease some of our CDI land now, especially our warehouse and shop spaces, to a wider range of industrial or commercial tenants on an “interim use” basis. We’re advocating for interim use approval by the county until the updated local coastal plan is amended and certified by the Coastal Commission.
This will allow us to rent to a broad range of industrial/manufacturing businesses. If a coastal-dependent tenant came along later, we’d move the existing tenant to another site. Coastal-dependent uses will always have priority, and lease terms will reflect this.
The district has been and continues to be committed to making sure that enough coastal industrial land remains available for businesses or other entities that need access to the sea. Given the large amount of coastal industrial land, buildings, docks and other facilities that are vacant — and have been for years — we think that granting interim use status to some of this property is not only prudent, but necessary, for job creation and to avert losing these assets’ potential for future CDI use.
Richard Marks is a commissioner representing Division 4, which includes Eureka, on the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District.