The Trinity County Board of Supervisors last week received a petition signed by approximately 500 Hayfork residents seeking a temporary moratorium on “formal or box stores in Hayfork” until the Hayfork Community Plan, adopted in 1996, can be updated.
The heading on the petition actually says “Keep retail stores in Hayfork local, No to Dollar General in Hayfork.” The proposed ban would encompass the boundaries of the Mountain Valley Unified School District.
The board heard the presenters out, but took no action on the item. A few members said they need a better definition of the types of stores that would be banned under a moratorium, as well as a local plan for involvement in a community plan update which is not high on the Planning Department’s list of priorities.
That list is topped by completing an EIR for commercial cannabis cultivation, creating a retail cannabis sales ordinance and beginning a long-awaited update of the Trinity County General Plan expected to take about three years to complete.
A previous application by a developer to build a Dollar General store in Hayfork drew overwhelming opposition from the community and was ultimately defeated. Now there has been an inquiry to the Planning Department from a different developer about building a Dollar General store on a different site, but not yet a formal application.
Following the previous controversy, a group of Hayfork residents joined the long-standing community plan advisory group looking for ways to address the issue of chain or box stores coming into Hayfork through an update of that community plan.
Sup. John Fenley asked numerous questions of Sup. Bobbi Chadwick who said she brought the item to the board “at the people’s request” and she has had nothing to do with it except to facilitate one meeting between the applicants and Planning Department staff.
Fenley asked if there’s a budget for updating the community plan and a process for selecting community members to participate. It took eight years to adopt the first community plan “so are we reopening it?”
Sup. Keith Groves said it would be “awkward” to try to do a community plan right now and then update it again in two or three years when the general plan is finished.
“What I see is trying to set up an opt-out area for small box stores, whatever that definition means, and that is a huge district you are asking for. Is Holiday a box store?” he asked.
Fenley noted that if CVS wanted to open a store in Hayfork “they’d be out of luck. I would suggest you set aside the community plan involvement because we do not have the resources to initiate that process.” He added he doesn’t want the whole county to end up paying “for what Hayfork is trying to do.”
Planning Director Kim Hunter said the trend in Hayfork has been for people to work on it on their own and “we don’t prohibit that.”
To qualify as an urgency ordinance taking effect immediately, County Counsel Margaret Long said it would have to be addressing an immediate risk to public health, safety, or welfare. An urgency ordinance is initially good for 45 days, then subject to an extension of 10 months and 15 days, then another for a year. After that, it would disappear and no longer be in effect if not formalized through a permanent ordinance.
Most board members did not feel the requested temporary moratorium met the qualifications for an urgency ordinance.
Groves said the general plan will not be finished before the urgency ordinance would expire and asked if a conditional use permit could be required on all box stores in the Hayfork Valley so the public would have opportunity to voice opinions in a public forum in a process that would last forever.
Sup. Judy Morris said that process already exists for anything over 5,000 square feet.
“The conditional use permit process is there for the public to weigh in, though it does take a little bit of time. Do they just want to outlaw big commercial buildings?” Morris said.
“Every time Dollar General is brought up, it is always in the negative. This is the same rub it was five years ago. They have worked among themselves to try and develop something, but told to put on pause until the general plan is done. And now the very thing they want to prohibit from development is knocking on their door. Is there a way to surgically request in a specific area a moratorium on that?” Chadwick asked.
Fenley said, “Keep in mind this land might be owned by individuals that want revenue from it. We are going to have to look at this carefully. There’s a lot of heartburn and a lot more going on than a box store coming in and wiping out the town which is probably feasible.”
Sup. Jeremy Brown said he doesn’t believe in government interfering with business too much.
“People support business with their dollar. That is what determines the outcome of a business is if people are supporting it with their money,” he said, adding businesses and consumers generally benefit when there is competition resulting in better product, more selection and better prices.
Kenneth Wiley and Heather Gossman spoke for the group spearheading the effort against Grocery Outlet and Dollar General stores moving into small communities.
“We don’t want to spend gobs of county money on it, but a lot of people have strong opinions on it. We got 501 signatures in two weeks, specifically against Dollar General, formula box stores and cookie cutter stores,” Wiley said.
“We want to exert some control over our community as others have done with cannabis opt outs,” said Adrien Keys of Hayfork.
“It’s a drastic item we’re asking for, but it did come to our door unexpectedly that another Dollar General is looking to set up shop in Hayfork, especially at this time when so many are just trying to stay open with COVID. Even our efforts to reach out to people have been stymied by COVID,” Gossman said.
She asked for time “to get it together so when we do present to you it is tight and nothing comes back to bite.”
She added the people who signed the petition are looking for the community’s interests to be heard and said, “I understand about competition, but Dollar General is not healthy competition. They are targeting us.”
In closing, Planning Director Kim Hunter asked for time to work with County Counsel on a path forward.
Chadwick said she is seeking assurance to the Hayfork community “that they are equally important as those that say they don’t want cannabis in their community.”
Fenley said he is willing to direct staff to work on it, but wants a cost and time limit like two hours.
Sup. Groves suggested it might be more expedient for the group to hire a private consultant and create their own proposal or a ballot measure, adding “if this group is serious, they should realize the county is not going to be their savior. A private consultant is a faster way for them to do because at best, this will be a slow, painful process for the county to do it.”
County Counsel Margaret Long said the only mechanism for something immediate is an urgency ordinance she isn’t sure would pass legal muster, or a vote of the people or a formal ordinance of the board. A vote would have to be countywide unless a special district is formed.
County Administrative Officer Richard Kuhns said the board’s Aug. 18 meeting is feasible for a report back with recommendations on timeframe, cost and level of staff involvement.