You are entitled to have your opinion, not to intimidate
February 10, 2014
I read with total dismay the “Other Voices” opinion article titled “Nevada City Boardwalk needs to go,” submitted by Jean Gerard and published in The Union on Feb. 4. I am not writing to disagree with her viewpoint on the boardwalk; she is entitled to her opinion. I am writing to convey my shock at her attacks on the city planner and city council members. She not only levied a number of over-the-top personal attacks on the city planner, but she also made veiled threats of being un-elected in the next election cycle to two sitting council members.
While I totally agree on the citizens’ right to elect or un-elect any legislative member, I think it is a form of intimidation to raise that reality in the context of a single issue.
I spent more than 25 years working in the public sector. I served 15 years (from 1985 through 2000) as a planning director and development services director in three different Sierra Nevada foothills counties. I can tell you firsthand that there is nothing easy about director jobs at any level in a planning agency. I always found that the pubic views planners, depending on the day or the issue at hand, in such a way that they “love to hate them or hate to love them.”
I think it is very simpleminded for someone to cast personal aspersions on any public official when he or she happens to disagree with a point of view.
Cindy Siegfried is one of the most hardworking, caring and honest public officials I know. I had the pleasure of working with her when she was a secretary in the Nevada County Planning Department. I have followed her progression in the planning field since that time. In her capacity as city planner for the last seven or eight years, she has made a sincere effort to respectfully serve all who come in the door.
Unfortunately, individuals like Ms. Gerard don’t extend the same courtesy to local public officials when she doesn’t agree with the public position on an issue.
I would also like to give Ms. Gerard a quick tutorial on how the local land use process works in California. All projects requiring a decision by the planning commission and/or city council are required to be open to the public. Such projects are also subject to environmental review based on the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
There are generally three types of environmental clearances for which a project can qualify. The first is an exemption from the provisions of CEQA, normally only available to minor projects. The second is either a negative declaration or a mitigated negative declaration.
The latter means that, with mitigation measures, there will not be a significant impact on the physical environment. The final option is an Environmental Impact Report (EIR).
An EIR is prepared when there is evidence that a project might have significant impacts on the physical environment.
All three of the environmental document options encourage comments from the public as to the adequacy of the environmental findings. Those comments and concerns are to be evaluated and weighed by the decision-makers in deciding what type of environmental document should be prepared and adopted.
Because the decision-makers elect to accept the environmental document does not mean that a project will be approved. A public hearing to accept or reject or modify a project is available, even after the environmental document is determined.
The land-use process is not intended for one viewpoint to out shout the other. It is intended to resolve disputes when possible. Believe it or not, at times, projects are rejected. The Nevada City Boardwalk is obviously controversial among interested parties.
City council members are elected to hear from the public, weigh the evidence, pro and con, and then render a decision. This process works best when participants conduct themselves civilly and respectfully in the process of submitting or verbalizing their concerns. Some think that character assassination is an effective method to get one’s point of view across.
If that’s the way public discourse is going in Nevada City, then I feel sorry for us all.
Tom Parilo is a resident of Nevada County.