Standing-room-only crowd addresses county general plan
County residents filled the Board of Supervisors’ chambers, crowded the doorway and lined the benches on the third floor of the courthouse Feb. 5 to comment on the general plan.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Terry Swofford took control of the meeting from the outset, telling attendees to address all comments to the board, that each would receive one opportunity to speak for a three-minute maximum and that the board would not be responding.
“This will be treated like public comment,” Swofford said as he laid out the ground rules. “On behalf of the board, thank you for attending.”
Swofford threatened to dismiss an individual only once during the nearly two-hour session, after a rude noise could be heard following a commenter.
“We will ask you to leave,” Swofford warned those in attendance.
Indian Valley Citizens for Private Property Rights
Carol Viscarra spoke on behalf of the property rights’ group, delivering almost the identical PowerPoint presentation that she gave to the planning commission Jan. 17.
Viscarra said that she and her colleagues had performed a four-month exhaustive review of the county’s general plan and were concerned that much of the language was “virtually verbatim” to that found in Agenda 21.
Agenda 21 is a 300-page document adopted in 1992 at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The document is designed to guide jurisdictions across the globe toward sustainable economic growth, while simultaneously protecting and renewing environmental resources.
The document has become a lightning rod for discussions regarding its intent.
On one side are those who subscribe to the belief that implementation of Agenda 21 would eliminate private property rights, would favor natural resources over people and would detail where and how people should live.
On the other side are those who see the document as recognition that the world is a global community, whose resources must be protected for now and future generations.
For Viscarra’s group, it’s a direct challenge to private property rights, and since identical wording can be found in the two documents, the group charges that the “plan was hijacked somewhere in its development.”
As she did during the planning commission meeting, Viscarra said she doesn’t hold either the supervisors or the planning commission liable; rather, she blames outside consultants for the intrusion of Agenda 21 into the general plan.
She explained that consultants are skilled at steering groups toward consensus on their own agenda, saying it gives “the illusion that you crafted the plan.”
Viscarra also expressed concern that the general plan includes three optional elements — agriculture and forestry, economics and water — which would exert even more control over property owners.
Why Plumas? Why now?
According to Viscarra, Plumas is “only 29 percent privately owned,” with a population of just 7.8 people per square mile, which translates into “less people to displace.”
But Viscarra said the “more important “why” is the Feather River watershed, which provides water for 60 percent of California’s population.”
She said the time is now because the general plan is only updated every 30 years. “Perhaps this is the sole opportunity,” Viscarra said.
Viscarra showed several slides comparing wording from the Plumas County General Plan with Agenda 21. “It’s nearly verbatim language.”
Again, to those who subscribe to the belief that Agenda 21 is an attempt to abolish private property rights, words such as “open space,” “conservation” and “sustainable” are words that arouse suspicion. To those who support the concepts advanced by Agenda 21, those words offer idealistic goals.
Viscarra’s group also objects to the word “shall,” which appears 435 times in the document, fearing that it eliminates any discretion.
She cited the general plan’s acknowledgement of the Delta’s water problems as why the general plan isn’t in the best interest of county residents.
“There is nowhere in the plan where it will say that it will protect the adjudicated water rights of the people of Plumas County,” she said.
Viscarra called on the supervisors to do three things: pass an ordinance against Agenda 21, scrub the general plan and delete optional elements from a new version of the general plan.
She listed a host of jurisdictions that have already passed legislation or resolutions against Agenda 21.
“I’m feeling less crazy. I’m feeling less like a conspiracy theorist,” she said.
She also suggested that the board “place individual property rights first,” avoid consortium with non-governmental organizations and ensure that any plan could be repealed.
“We have an obligation to not just get this done, but we owe it to our children and grandchildren to get it right.”
As for people asking where they have been for the past seven years, Viscarra said, “I trusted the representative form of government.”
Viscarra wrapped up her remarks by encouraging speakers to be civil. “Don’t engage in uncivil discourse; don’t get caught up in arguing this in the halls of the courthouse,” she said.
Kristi Jamason spoke first and said it would be difficult to rebut in three minutes what it took Viscarra 45 minutes to present.
Jamason has worked on the general plan since 2006 so she addressed many of Viscarra’s points.
As for the three optional elements, Jamason said they were added to “protect” not to “control.” As to the reference to the Bay Delta, she said that it wasn’t about making the Delta a “priority” but rather noting that the county is aware of the issue.
And when it came to use of the word “shall” — “if you don’t have ‘shall’ you have nothing enforceable,” she said.
Jamason said that much of what Viscarra talked about didn’t have anything to do with the specifics of the general plan, but rather the words used. She wanted to know what specifically the group would like to be different.
Jamason said that when the group wants to “trash everything” it discounts the work of all the people involved in the process for several years.
Gordon Keller also spoke up on behalf of the document, saying that “sustainable” is important and that “open space” ensures charm.
Nansi Bohne, a former Plumas County supervisor, said she had worked on the county’s first general plan and that document was created for “land use.” She said the problem with the new plan is that it goes too far and becomes “life management.”
Quincy attorney Michael Jackson said that he also worked on the original general plan and describes the updated version as “not that different.”
He told the supervisors that to scrub the effort now could result in a state moratorium on all growth in the county.
Then Jackson questioned the group’s objections to the words in the general plan, asking if members wanted “no open space” and preferred resources to be “unsustainable.”
Sierra Valley rancher Rick Roberti said that his father, who had worked on the general plan alongside Bohne and Jackson, “had a bitter taste in his mouth until the day he died.” He recalled his father saying, “By the time you get all done, they are going to do what they want anyway.”
He said he gives credit to Jamason and those who have worked on the general plan, but he is worried that one whole valley “thinks that they haven’t been heard.”
Meadow Valley resident Donna McElroy said she had spent 23 years fighting for the timber industry and now it was the miners and the ranchers who were at risk. “Pay attention. There is something to this,” she said.
Dr. Eric Wattenburg, a former county resident who still owns property here, warned the supervisors about any wording that was ambiguous. “The danger here is leaving ambiguity in the document to be interpreted,” he said.
Quincy resident Harry Reeves participated in the process and said, “This is a solid document that’s fair to everyone.”
He asked the people who were objecting to “show how they’d really be hurt.”
But he acknowledged that there was some ambiguity in the document and in his written comments asked for clarification in some areas.
When an audience member asked the supervisors if they had read the 600-page document, Supervisor Jon Kennedy responded. He clarified that the general plan is actually 248 pages and said that he had read it three times. The other supervisors indicated that they had read it as well.
Graeagle resident Mark Mihevc said he also had read it three times and described it as a “beautiful document.” He said that concern that the government could take a property owner’s land was already covered by the Constitution under the Fifth Amendment, eminent domain.
“I say we adopt this plan and move forward,” he said.
The board listened to all of the public comment, but what happens next?
The county planning department is reviewing and writing a response to each of the comments made on the draft environmental impact report.
When that work is completed it will be returned to the planning commission for review and possible submission to the Board of Supervisors for approval.