New members stacking deck for pro-growth
The Jan. 7 meeting of the Board of Supervisors was the first opportunity to watch the new board majority in action. Both Drew Bedwell and Robin Sutherland had promised to heal the partisan divisiveness of the election and to serve their entire constituencies, not merely their core supporters. The meeting was a chance to see them begin to live up to those promises.
The first significant act of the new board, however, did not bode well for anyone hoping to see these promises fulfilled. It leaves a bad smell in more than one sense.
Soon after Sue Horne took over as chair, the board considered whether to add members to the Sewage Disposal Technical Advisory Group (TAG). The TAG does not make or enforce policy, but simply makes recommendations to the county’s environmental health department. It also hears appeals from those objecting to environmental health department rulings regarding sewage systems.
The group had five members with special expertise in septic systems, one appointed by each supervisor. On the agenda was a proposal to add a contractor and a Realtor to the TAG as voting members. Supervisor Peter Van Zant moved to add a representative of the Yuba Watershed Council as an additional voting member, and to give full voting rights to the county public health officer (who already had the right to vote in appeals cases). Since these are voluntary positions it would cost nothing to implement either or both proposals.
What a great opportunity, I thought, for the new supervisors. Without spending a cent they could show that they serve all county residents.
Contractors certainly have a stake in the sewage systems permissible in new construction. But so do the many agencies and people represented by the Watershed Council, and nobody’s voice would be as valuable as that of the county officer responsible for public health. The argument for adding a Realtor was less convincing to me.
The board voted to add the contractor and Realtor, but voted 3-2 not to add the Yuba Watershed or county health representatives.
Sutherland gave no reason for her no vote. Bedwell said this would threaten the development of affordable housing in the county. Horne said that adding the Yuba Watershed and county health representatives to the TAG would create a “political hotbed.”
These arguments are not convincing. The link between this advisory panel and affordable housing is questionable at best. Horne’s apparent fear that the resulting group would have internal disagreements is just the point. Decision-makers and the public at large can put more faith in an advisory group’s recommendations if they have been hammered out by people with different points of view on the issue.
This outcome may be partially due to the inexperience of the new board members. They may have assumed that a motion made during discussion, and by a supervisor from the other side of the political fence, deserved less consideration than the proposal on the official agenda. But we pay board members to make good decisions on our behalf, and they are accountable to us for their votes.
Leadership is the ability to recognize and endorse ideas that serve
the public interest, whatever their source.
By its action, the new majority showed it wants to reward contractors and Realtors, thereby lowering barriers to development, and is willing to ignore public health and the environment. Their decision is poor service to a community evenly split between pro-growth and smart growth advocates. They stacked the deck on one side of the issue. In fact, the new board majority did just what it has accused its predecessor board of doing. It remained in the septic fields of narrow partisanship and personal agendas rather than leading the way to higher ground.
The board’s action also shows poor judgment in a county already facing a $5 million mandate to upgrade sewage systems, which may triple or quadruple the bills of Lake Wildwood and Lake of the Pines sewage treatment plant customers.
Until the board rectifies this mistake, there will be a bad smell in county government. Chair Sue Horne has been responsive to my concerns, and at the subsequent board meeting she outlined a process that may eventually get the Yuba Watershed Council representation on the TAG. But until the damage done at the Jan. 7
meeting has been undone, the scorecard for the new board stands: Unfettered Development 1, Community Health and the Environment.
Dr. Win Rogers is chair of the Nevada County Mental Health Board/Alcohol and Drug Advisory Board and is a participant in this year’s Nevada County Community Leadership Institute. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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