GPU: September hearing for Guiding Principles

As controversy about revision of the General Plan Update’s guiding principles continues to overshadow other work, supervisors have set a date to hear more public comment on it.
The Board of Supervisors decided to hold another public hearing on the guiding principles on Sept. 23 from 6 to 9 pm. The date was set during the board’s July 8 update hearing, which began with a public comment session dominated by criticism of and support for the guiding principles changes.
They were approved by four out of five supervisors, with Supervisor Mark Lovelace dissenting, in a non-binding straw vote in early June. The most significant changes add language supporting “landowners’ rights” and subtract mention of new restrictions as a means of protecting timberland and farmland.
Several commenters told supervisors that the guiding principles need to maintain an emphasis on environmental protection. Supervisor Estelle Fennell, the primary author of the changes, said that while she’s pleased with the sudden upwelling of attention to the update, there’s lack of acknowledgment of its conservation-oriented policies.
“It’s a little irritating to hear some of the comments about protecting the environment, protecting watersheds, etcetera,” she said. “If you were to follow the process that we’ve been going through for the past year … you would understand that there are numerous policies, implementation measures and standards that address those issues.”
Fennell recommended that supervisors set a date for a public hearing on the principles prior to delving into the hearing’s main work – continuing the review of the update’s Forest Resources section. After a few minutes of discussion, Board Chairman Ryan Sundberg recommended holding the hearing on Sept. 23.
It was not to be that simple, however. A much longer discussion on alternative options – such as holding a series of hearings – and on the validity of the revised guiding principles followed.
Supervisor Rex Bohn referred to comments made by Briceland resident Tom Grover, who had said that the process that produced the original guiding principles nine years ago didn’t acknowledge input from rural residents. Bohn agreed and said there was a broader disregard of public commentary, as the process had been manipulated by the county’s Planning Department.
“A lot of stuff was put in a funnel and what came out wasn’t exactly what was said at the meetings,” he continued. “A lot of it was staff-driven, coming down from the top — Ray Charles could see that.”
Bohn described the new version of the principles as being closer to consensus.
“We’re trying to get something in the middle that everybody can live with,” he said.
Lovelace’s recommendation to hold outreach meetings in various areas of the county didn’t get support from other supervisors. Questioning the timing of the revision, he said the guiding principles were originally intended to be a “work order” for the update based on community input.
He added that it would make more sense to review them at the end of the process to make sure they’re consistent with a completed update.
Sundberg described the principles as a work order for the near-future. “Changes to the General Plan going forward have to be consistent with the guiding principles,” he said. “I think that’s the main reason why we’re discussing them now, it’s for changes to the General Plan that are coming up.”
Supervisors have several more sections of the plan to review and perhaps the most significant piece of work is approval of the update’s Land Use section and its zoning maps.
After setting the date for the guiding principles hearing, supervisors worked on the Forest Resources section and succeeding in finishing it.
They agreed to change mention of “ecosystem values” in several policies to “ecosystem services” and approved policies on timberland subdivisions, requirements for buffer areas between timberlands and residential areas and incentive programs to encourage timber production.
The next update hearing is set for July 22, when supervisors will review the update’s Energy Element.