South Yuba planners deserve praise
How much public input is enough for a project that could shape our community?
The agencies behind the South Yuba River Comprehensive Management Plan have probably set a local record with their 40 public meetings over the past two years.
So we were surprised this week when Nevada County Supervisor Robin Sutherland chided the plan organizers for not reaching out to all the residents who have a vested interest in the South Yuba.
In her defense, Sutherland is trying to draw as much attention as possible in the last weeks of the public comment period for the plan, which outlines the strengths, weaknesses and improvement goals for the public lands along the river from Lake Spaulding to Englebright Reservoir.
Sutherland felt the ongoing meetings about the plan should have been spread around the county and at different times, instead of consistently being at Condon Park’s L.O.V.E. Building in the evenings.
“Maybe (some residents) have kids. Maybe they have ranches with a couple hundred head of cattle they have to feed every night,” Sutherland said. “I want to hear their concerns.”
The unfortunate implication is that the South Yuba planning group – a coalition of county, state and federal officials – hasn’t done enough to include the public.
Since July 2003, the group has been vocal about getting everyone involved.
Regular attendees at the 40 river plan meetings included Pat Davison, former field director for the California Association of Business Property and Resource Owners, and Janet Cohen, executive director of the South Yuba River Citizens League. Those are two of the most politically active groups in the region, and having their often-opposing perspectives involved in the plan was a triumph for the organizers.
“We really do feel we had a broad spectrum of representation,” said Lorna Dobrovolny, a state parks employee serving as project manager for the river plan.
Now that the public process of assembling the plan is drawing to a close, Sutherland is right to encourage any last-minute ideas for the plan. But her comments also show how relatively uninvolved the county supervisors were in the two years of the plan’s genesis.
Sutherland and former Supervisor Drew Bedwell made brief appearances, but only supervisor candidate Olivia Diaz was consistently involved, Dobrovolny said.
Groups such as the river planners can only accomplish so much by themselves. For the river plan, that accomplishment was considerable.
But if elected officials wanted to ensure full public input, they should have been more proactive in helping get the community involved.
Sutherland points to her unsuccessful attempt in January 2004 to have a Penn Valley-area public meeting for the river plan. Supervisors should be active outside their chambers, though – as Sutherland obviously knows from her repeated efforts to organize town halls for her district.
If anything, elected officials should be taking this time to praise the South Yuba planners and the consistent meeting attendees for their mammoth effort. It’s also a good time to think about how our elected officials should focus on being proactive, instead of lobbing criticisms late in the game.
For more on the South Yuba management plan, visit http://www.southyubariverplan.com on the Web. The next public meeting is 6:30 p.m. Feb. 15 at the L.O.V.E. Building.
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