Local planning group members and residents voice concerns over restriction of powers for communities at behest of developers
By Miriam Raftery / East County Magazine / December 12, 2012
By a 5-0 vote, San Diego’s Board of Supervisors this week unanimously voted to place limits on the powers and influence of community planning group and sponsor group members.
The action follows recommendations made by a developer-stacked Red Tape Reduction Task Force, which had sought to eliminate planning and sponsor groups completely. Supervisors previously voted to retain the groups, but make some changes. But changes approved this week are sparking concern and outrage among many local planning and sponsor group members, as well as the public that they serve.
One local planning representative is even calling for a ballot measure to shift power from Supervisors back to local planning group members and the people in rural communities.
Among other things, this action prohibits planning/sponsor groups from appealing county approval of any development item not within their district’s boundaries. So if the county approves 500-foot-tall wind turbines, a power plant, or a large housing project that could have impacts in an adjoining districts such as noise, traffic or groundwater usage, no appeal from impacted neighboring districts will be allowed.
In addition, planning and sponsor groups are no longer allowed to make direct requests to project applicants for additional studies including further analysis of project impacts or mitigation. Instead any such requests must go to the County project manager, who will decide whether such mitigation is necessary.
Under the new rules, planning and sponsor group members may no longer send complaints or concerns directly to state or federal agencies or entities. Instead, they must direct correspondence directly to county officials, though they can send copies to other agencies or elected officials.
But how effective would a mere cc be, as opposed to a letter to one’s Congressional or state legislative representative, or to a state agency such as the Public Utilities Commission, requesting that the official or agency take a specific action?
The action drew a bristly response from some local planning group members.
“I will accept NO restriction on whom I speak to, contact, etc.,” Alpine Planning Group member Lou Russo wrote in an e-mail to ECM. “As a former Marine officer, I did not give up my rights as a citizen when I accepted my commision and I sure as hell didn’t when I was leglaly elected to a planning group…nor as a legally elected member of a fire board.”
Planning groups may still discuss items outside their boundaries (though some wanted to muzzle even that right) but the county has taken away the legal teeth for planners to take action, other than notifying the county about their concerns.
“If they don’t like the agenda items local boards address, then they can get out of the Couhty Board room and have their meetings on a rotating basis throughout the County,” Russo retorted.
Supervisors did vote to retain the current process for naming chairs of planning and sponsor gorups. Other restrictions were imposed to limit county liability, such as making indeminification against legal action contingent on members attending training and not having multiple legal actions against them. (Ironically in recent years there have been more legal actions taken against Supervisors than planning group/sponsor group members, though there seems to be no similar restriction imposed on Supervisors.)
For the remainder of this article, please go to East County Magazine.