Humboldt County, California, famed for its redwoods, is home to the tallest tree on earth—the 379-foot-tall Hyperion in Redwood National Park.
When this rural county decided to update its General Plan, it turned to an HIA to ensure that the health of its approximately 125,000 residents would be equally robust. The local health department and the Humboldt Partnership for Active Living (a coalition of local organizations) teamed up with Human Impact Partners and community members to identify 35 indicators of community health - such as vehicle miles traveled and the porportion of households within half a mile of an elementary school - and evaluated how they would be impacted by the three alternative growth scenarios being considered in the General Plan update. Ultimately, the analysis pointed strongly toward “focused growth”- new development in areas already served by existing infrastructure such as public sewage and utilities - as better for the county than unrestricted growth, or a mix of the two.
The HIA pointed out that focused growth should result in fewer miles driven. That, in turn, could lead to fewer traffic injuries and more walking and biking (and therefore less risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity). Having families live closer to schools should likewise encourage walking and biking, which could further improve health and stem pollution.
The county health and planning departments have endorsed the HIA recommendations, and the planning department is using HIA recommendations, particularly in regard to transportation, to develop their proposals for elements of the final General Plan. The Board of Supervisors will make the final decision about the General Plan update.