Lack of trust brings an end to NH 2020
So now it appears we will be bidding a more early adieu to Natural Heritage 2020 than had originally been anticipated. What will The Union fill its opinion pages with? What other issues will the supervisorial challengers find to alarm the voters? And how will I, and the other community volunteers on the Citizen’s Advisory Committee, replace those long evening meetings spent discussing the resources and the future of Nevada County? The answer to that last question, at least, is not difficult. I’m appreciating the prospect of getting my life back a little sooner than expected, particularly with another beautiful Nevada County summer approaching. Some of the other questions left by the truncation of the NH 2020 process, of course, may not be so easy to answer.
But first, I think we need to realize that the glass is two-thirds full; NH 2020 was designed to be a three-part process, and two of those parts – the report of the Scientific Advisory Committee and the community recommendations of the Citizen’s Advisory Committee – will be successfully completed by the time our work ends in July.
The work of the Scientific Advisory Committee is a huge achievement for Nevada County, and by itself worth many times more than what the county has spent thus far on NH 2020. The SAC has done a masterful job of coalescing mountains of disparate and scattered data, from state and federal agencies, from a wide range of scientific disciplines, and from hundreds of other sources which until now had been a informational tower of babble, into a single coherent and user-friendly database. The entire community, in particular property owners and the development community, will be real and immediate beneficiaries of this effort. The development process can be streamlined – accurate, consistent and accessible base data will reduce the number and expense of the studies that need to be done before permits can be issued. The planning department will have more of the information it needs to implement county policy quickly and fairly. Interference in local planning decisions from state and federal agencies will be reduced as they defer to our more accurate data. The bottom line – we need good information to make good planning decisions, and now, thanks to NH 2020, we have that information.
The recommendations of the Citizen’s Advisory Committee on forestry, recreation, and agriculture also represent a major accomplishment. The CAC was one of the most conscientious and fair-minded groups I have ever had the pleasure of working with, bringing to the table a tremendously diverse group of people committed to finding consensus on the most challenging issues facing our community – how to accommodate growth, preserve our resources, and support our working landscapes. Because of this extraordinary dialog, and the commitment to incorporate all interests and viewpoints into our decision-making process, I believe the recommendations which the CAC will present to the Supervisors in July will be an invaluable resource for our decision-makers as they craft new policies to deal with the changes the future will bring.
The most important work, of course – the discussion of strategies for protection of resources and habitat – will remain undone due to the premature demise of NH 2020. Nevada County will remain without a global vision of where we want to go and how to get there. How can we direct growth into those areas most able to accommodate it, and away from fragile, resource-rich areas where growth is not appropriate? How can we preserve habitat without inconvenience or expense to our property owners? How can we maintain local control, with the minimum of state or federal interference, over the planning and development process?
NH 2020 would have answered these questions – and until these questions are answered we will continue to make our planning decisions on a project-by-project, piecemeal basis. We’ll continue our divisive infighting over land use, the environment and property rights. And we will continue to fragment our most valuable habitats and lose valuable resources, until, inevitably, the federal government will intervene as it has in other counties that have failed to develop long-term conservation strategies – at tremendous cost and inconvenience to property owners, the development community and, ironically, the property-rights activists whose relentless and bellicose rhetoric is most responsible for the demise of NH 2020.
In NH 2020 we had an opportunity to build consensus on some of the most challenging issues of our time – but it takes trust to build consensus, and trust was never given a proper chance to develop. I believe that the work started by NH2020 will be completed some day – it has to be – but the longer we wait, the more it’s going to cost. So let’s get on with it.
Brian Bisnett, a resident of the Higgins Corner area, writes a monthly column.
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