Last minute letters derail planning commission’s plans

Timeline to adopt general plan pushed back

  One side says, “It’s too restrictive.” The other side says, “It’s too permissive.” The Plumas County Planning Commission wants “just right.”

  The planning commission had been scheduled to make a recommendation to send the final environmental impact report on the county’s general plan update to the Board of Supervisors at the conclusion of its July 18 public hearing.

  But after two hours of public comment, Planning Director Randy Wilson said that he recommended extending the public hearing due to a recent development — the receipt of a letter from High Sierra Rural Alliance.

  “We are hiring an attorney; we need to address the comments in writing,” Wilson said.

  Wilson said the public hearing would be continued until the end of August or early September.

  “Had this not occurred, we would have closed the hearing and debated the topic,” Wilson said.

  Planning staff then distributed the letter written by High Sierra Rural Alliance, as well as one written by Karen Budd-Falen on behalf of a group of “concerned citizens in Plumas County.”

High Sierra Rural Alliance

  The letter began by recognizing the commission’s “difficult job of directing this multi-year project to craft a General Plan which will guide Plumas County for the next 20 years.”

  It continued, “HSRA believes the goals articulated in the planning process and supported by the Commission are excellent.”

  But then the sentiment changes.

  “Despite its good intentions, the GPU (general plan update) is not, as written, a legally defensible document. The goals of the GPU are well articulated and clear; however, many of the policy statements are inconsistent, confusing and lack implementation.”

  The 15-page letter closes with the following: “We urge you to recommend the Board send the GPU and DEIR (draft environmental impact report) back to the Planning Department for correction and recirculation.”

  The group wants more details and specific information included in the environmental documents.

  According to the group’s website, “The High Sierra Rural Alliance is a non-profit grassroots organization committed to the preservation and enhancement of the rural Sierra experience. Our goal is to promote good local and regional land use planning that will balance economic growth with the preservation of the area’s unique natural and scenic resources.”

  The group is based in Sierra City in Sierra County, but it has been active in Plumas County before, filing two lawsuits in 2008 — one against a parcel map and one with regard to development at the Feather River Inn near Graeagle.

The flip side

  Karen Budd-Falen is a Wyoming-based attorney who, according to her biography, represents private property owners, ranching and farming organizations, and local governments.

  The letter, which was addressed to the Plumas County Board of Supervisors, began by saying it had two purposes.

  “First, this letter is to remind the County’s leadership of the reverence that the United States places on private property rights so that the County will reconsider its current course of action. Second, the letter advises you of some of our clients’ concerns with the Plan’s general character and specific issues and asks for changes.”

  It encourages the board to remove three categories that are addressed in the general plan: economics, agriculture and forestry, and water.

  The letter reads, “While many of the policies would seem directed at protecting the agriculture economy, our clients are concerned that in reality these policies will invite further interference with their agricultural operations and way of life.”

Comments from the crowd

  The public hearing drew close to 100, but only a dozen addressed the planning commission, though a handful spoke multiple times.

  A representative from Caltrans, Marci Gonzalez, commented on specific language in the transportation portion of the document regarding Highway 36, and two professional foresters addressed an “if necessary” phrase in the timber production section that they said could impact the ability to put a home on timber-producing land.

  Other comments were more general, though Portola resident Lynn Desjardin proved prophetic when she said, “Once you make one group happy, another is unhappy.”

  She drew laughter from the crowd when she said she thought the supervisors were eager to approve the general plan because they feared “the state might fine them, put them in jail or waterboard them,” for an untimely update.

  The county is already late. It had received one extension, and an extension to that extension, which expired last year.

  Indian Valley resident John Shower defended the document.

  “I’ve been part of the process for seven years,” he said. “The problem with the prior plan is that it was amended or changed the most of any plan in the state.”

  He said that “sometimes more words are more important than less words for clarification.”

  American Valley resident Tracy Ball also defended the plan and said “it did a good job of minimizing constraints.”

  In past hearings, many individuals objected to the use of the word “shall.”

  “Some ‘shalls’ are necessary,” he said. “We need to get on with it.”

  Graeagle resident Mark Mihevc devoted his comments to the pitfalls of using biomass to create energy.

  “It will cause more harm than good,” he said, after listing several ill effects of the process.

  Portola resident Larry Douglas argued in favor of biomass. “It’s a priority to keep forests healthy and fire-safe,” he said.

  Indian Valley resident Heather Kingdon addressed a number of issues from buffer zones to water rights to endangered species.

  Indian Valley resident Todd Anderson, who addressed the commissioners and the planning department staff a number of times, said, “We are the driver, you are the car. We tell you where to go.”

       And for now, it seems, that means back to the environmental impact report

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