Last Wednesday morning, just hours after the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors rejected the $300 million Humboldt Wind Energy Project, pro-development Planning Commission Chair Robert “Bob” Morris submitted his resignation with a terse, one-sentence email:
Effective 12/31/19, I hereby resign from the Humboldt County Planning Commission.
Morris, a forester and property manager whose current term wasn’t set to expire for more than a year, voted in favor of the wind energy project last month. When the project was appealed to the Board of Supervisors, however, Second District Supervisor Estelle Fennell, who appointed Morris to the commission in January 2013, was among the four “no” votes that killed the project.
And yet Fennell doesn’t think the two decisions are related. “I haven’t spoken with him about it, but I don’t think so,” she said when reached by phone this afternoon.
Fennell said Morris mentioned to her earlier this year that he was thinking of stepping down. She also said this wasn’t the first time they’d had differing opinions on a project. “I don’t know about Terra-Gen,” she said, referring to the company that proposed the wind farm, “but there have been times when we did not have the same take on things. And anybody who knows me knows I’m an independent thinker.”
(The Outpost left a voicemail for Morris this morning but has yet to hear back.)
Fennell sent the following response to Morris via email on Wednesday morning:
I am very sorry to hear this but I respect your decision. Thank you very much for your years of service on the Commission. You have distinguished yourself as an exceptional Chair and a thoughtful and hardworking commissioner. It will be very hard to fill your shoes!!
My Very Best,
Fennell’s 2012 election, along with her subsequent appointment of Morris to the Planning Commission, represented something of a political sea change in Humboldt County. Prior to her election, Fennell spent nearly three years as executive director of the Humboldt Coalition for Property Rights (HumCPR), a controversial, litigious and influential political organization founded by Morris and Kneeland resident Lee Ulansey. (Ulansey got himself appointed to the Planning Commission a month after Morris.)
Morris, a staunch defender of private property rights, took over the Second District Planning Commission seat from Mel Kreb, who had prioritized environmental preservation. Morris and Ulansey anchored a new majority on the commission, one with a more laissez faire attitude toward land use policy, and their views influenced both the policies and implementation of the county’s general plan update.
Over the past year and change, Morris clashed with Fifth District Supervisor Steve Madrone, who has accused Morris of failing to fully disclose his various property holdings while making self-serving land use decisions on votes for which he should have recused himself.
At last month’s Planning Commission meeting, which would turn out to be his last, Morris emphasized his family’s long history in the county and described his decision-making process as one based on evidence and compliance with the county’s general plan.
Fennell said serving on the Planning Commission is “one of the most demanding volunteer positions in Humboldt County,” and she reiterated her appreciation for Morris’s service.
Fennell plans to appoint Morris’s replacement as soon as possible, she said, and she encouraged any Second District residents who are interested in the position to contact her via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone (707-476-2392).
The simple application for the position can be found here.