Back By Popular Demand–Regional Op-Ed. CA: Democracy, Land Use, and Mass Extinctions.

September 17, 2016 OwnerMVa EOS Blog--Information, Musings, Opinion

By far the most requested article I have written. First published by Yuba Net in 2007, for reasons unknown to me, Yuba Net has pulled this article down though it was been cached. Though I was tempted to edit it, here it is, as is. Thanks to all that have requested it through the years, and understand its importance.

Regional Op-Ed | Virginia Moran: Democracy, Land use, and Mass Extinctions
Author: Virginia Moran, Grass Valley
Published on May 11, 2007, 08:59

As I watch the city of Rocklin enter into the predictable hyper-overdevelopment phase of its “progress”, I reflect on why this has become the model in California when all evidence points to the need to do exactly the opposite. I have come to the conclusion that there is nothing democratic about land use decisions.

I have also become intrigued with the pattern of citizens turning out by the hundreds to oppose massive-scale developments (like Martis Valley at Lake Tahoe, the Yuba Highlands Development being planned near Beale Air Force Base, and the massive developments planned in the Wheatland area) and their “representatives” in the form of planning commissions and Boards of Supervisors (BOS), vote against their own citizens and approve these massive developments anyway.

This happens all over California all the time. This translates into citizens having no control over their own communities and poses questions as to who the planning commissions and BOS really represent. There is also too much power concentrated into too few hands.

At one time, perhaps the Board of Supervisors type government might have been an appropriate model but who could anticipate that in the late 20th and early 21st century, 5-20 people would have the power to vote in 2,000-30,000 home subdivisions changing their own communities and counties forever? Their power is temporary but the decisions they can make have irrevocable consequences to a community.

Supervisor John Doe can vote in favor of a 15,000 home subdivision but why doesn’t he also have to worry about the thousands of cars the new development will pump onto the road (and by sheer physics alone, the more cars on the road, the more likely someone will die in a collision)? Why doesn’t he have to concern himself with the fact that this 15,000 home subdivision will further decrease air quality, increase global warming gases, crime and gangs, etc.? In fact, the next day, Mr. Doe can quit the BOS and move to Florida. He is not responsible for the after effects of his vote. This is too much power concentrated in too few hands coupled with total un-accountability.

I find this stunning. This means that your “representatives” can make monumental decisions about communities and not be held responsible for their decisions and how their decisions affect the future. This is not a functional democratic model when it comes to land use decisions. The truth is local citizens have little to no control over land use decisions in their own communities and after Mr. Doe votes for the massive development and moves to Florida, you get to deal with the consequences.

Many citizens groups turn to CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) for this representation. Many also have the mistaken notion that they can use CEQA to stop a development and granted while the CEQA process may require changes in the development proposal, CEQA does not stop anything.

Large-scale developers just consider it the price of doing business and in reality, all CEQA is a kind of collaborative regulatory rationalization of mass extinction events because this is what massive developments are—sanctioned biological mass extinction events. A housing development of 500 homes or greater is no different than a meteor slamming into that part of the planet. It is the same thing (especially in the Sacramento Valley where it land razing including oak trees, is the status quo….but keep a few of the valley oaks to shade the new parking lot).

Resource agencies, such as the Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Department of Fish and Game are major players in the CEQA rationalization game. The legal way of rationalizing mass extinction events is by requiring something called “mitigation” for “project impacts.”

Mitigation can be a colossal waste of time and money and comes in the form of measures outlined to “minimize impacts” but for the most part, no one checks to see if the “mitigation measures” were ever implemented or implemented correctly. Mitigation can also come in the form of “mitigation banking” or “credits” which has some redeeming value if the land purchased or credits purchased really is of high ecological value compared to the land destroyed for development but this does not always happen.

I once was hired to do a botanical study for a natural resource land management company out of Riverside County, California that manages mitigation bank lands. The property was an abandoned barley field with highly compacted and cracked soils. This property had been approved as “mitigation lands” for very high quality coastal sage scrub habitat that was extirpated for a large housing development. The poor preserve manager was charged with “revegetating” this barley field into pristine coastal sage scrub habitat. The whole thing was a sham.

Solutions range from abandoning the Board of Supervisors type government in California for something far more representative (such as local and regional community councils); via a state referendum, require all development proposals over a certain size (I would say 100 homes) to go to the ballot; force resource agencies to look at development for what it is scientifically and ecologically–mass extinction events–and stop using “mitigation” to rationalize away the cumulative effects of these extinction events; create more mechanisms to put control of communities back into the hands of its own citizens so communities equal more than just raw material for economic exploitation.

One model is Thomas Linzey’s Community Legal Defense Fund in Pennsylvania which successfully shut down commercial hog farming in Pennsylvania and gave much of the power back to the small towns these commercial hog farms planned on bowling over sheerly for profit. There are other ideas, such as yours.

While my friend and I were driving through Rocklin, California, she looked out the window at the billionth ugly strip mall going in and said, “my God, why are they letting “this” happen?” and here is where she hit the nail on the head–“they” is right.

Who wants to see their community overdeveloped with all the negative results? I do not know a single citizen who wants this– so who is making decisions for communities in California if it’s not you or I? It’s time to identify fully who “they” is and hold them accountable because in the land of massive land development, you and I matter very little. This needs to change before it’s too late.

Democracy and Land UseDemocracy and Land Use in CADemocracy Land Use And Mass Extinctions in CALand Use Decisions and Democracy in CA

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