02/02/12

For the Record: Community Planning Groups

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, no one is suggesting we eliminate Planning Groups! 

We are currently experiencing Planning Group hysteria. There is a lot of misinformation floating around out there, and shameful misquoting. Especially when it comes to what I have said and where I stand on the issue.

Don’t be misled by the hype… focus on the facts.

Fact: My position has remained the same. It has not changed. I do not suggest we get rid of Planning Groups. I support simply shifting the burden of liability away from the county. That is the issue being considered… separation NOT elimination. 

Planning groups are a cost to the county as we manage elections, allocate staff time and purchase materials. This document identifies current costs of materials, staffing and elections and also has an estimate of potential costs associated with staffing regular planning group meetings with county planners and counsel. 

In addition, the county, and therefore the taxpayer, is legally and financially responsible when Planning Groups overstep their boundaries or fail to comply with Brown Act regulations. The Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) recently clarified its position that the county is liable for Brown Act violations committed by these voluntary, advisory bodies. Moving the planning groups outside of the county’s legal ‘umbrella’ is a step toward reducing our liability as a county. 

If we are to keep planning groups within the county’s legal responsibility, I believe we need to make some changes to our policies. The Red Tape Reduction Task Force made a number of recommendations to that effect, which have received little attention. While I do not support term limits, I do believe we need to make some changes. Options include having county staff present at planning group meetings and holding mandatory Brown Act training for the group members. I have heard some concerns that Planning Groups could lose their autonomy if county staff has to manage meetings. I will wait to make a final decision when I can listen to public feedback at the hearing.

 

Claim: The Task Force was made up of developers. 

Fact: The Task Force was made up of 7 land use professionals: land use attorneys, a former Planning Commissioner, an engineer, two former DPLU staff members, a planning group member, businessmen, and a developer. (*some members wear more than one hat) 

They are qualified experts who are knowledgeable about the County’s processes. Each Supervisor gave personal suggestions and input on the make-up of the Task Force.

 

Claim: The group met in secret out of the public’s view. 

Fact: This group met every 2 weeks starting last May. They held public meetings that were publicly noticed. This was the focal point of my State of the County Address and I made no secret of the group’s existence or their meetings. My staff attended their meetings regularly. 

Attendance was open to the public, though few made a point to show up and offer input.

 

Claim: The county is trying to eliminate the planning groups. 

Fact: The RTRTF made two proposals for the planning groups. One recommends shifting the Planning Groups outside of the county umbrella and the other proposes a series of reforms such as term limits, narrowed scope and attendance of county staff and counsel at monthly meetings. The full report can be found here. I encourage you to take a few moments to read it in its entirety. However, if you would like to skip to the section on planning groups it is item 9, and can be found on pages 7 and 8.

I do not believe that moving groups outside our liability will “eliminate” them. The planning groups have a long history in their respective communities and I believe they will still be a voice with or without the county’s legal and financial involvement. The Elfin Forest/Harmony Grove Town Council, the Fallbrook Village Association and the Endangered Habitats League all fall outside of the county’s umbrella and yet all continue to be very involved with county land use proposals. A few years ago, a group of former planning group members set out to create an alternate voice in the community. According to our county policy, only one recognized planning group can exist in a community. This alternate group has often been derided as “not the planning group” and therefore “not the community’s voice” by members of the planning group. I believe in free speech and therefore support any and all points of view when it comes to land use decisions. 

Last year, I made it my priority to streamline our business operations and eliminate red tape in our county planning department. The RTRTF was created to utilize the knowledge of experts in the field to facilitate that goal. I am stunned there are people who actually want to slow government process. But it’s an old trick; slow growth equals no growth and if you bog down the process, nothing ever changes. 

Governor Jerry Brown’s updated budget plan proposes axing several boards, commissions, task forces and offices that have added to the state bureaucracy without delivering services more efficiently. The Governor said "Cutbacks in boards, commissions and other state services will continue as we work towards a truly balanced budget." It is a time of austerity. We may not have to eliminate, but we do need to change.

Your thoughts and concerns are very important to me. I appreciate your input as I make decisions that will impact your life. Please take the time to attend our Board meetings and pay close attention to policy. Don’t trust someone else’s interpretation of the issues. Write to me and tell me what you think. I do listen to my constituents and I value your participation in the process.