What's a county General Plan review steering committee, anyway?

This letter was submitted to the Merced County Board of Supervisors for its May 2nd continued hearing on proposed General Plan Amendment policy and procedures during the General Plan Update process. The board decided that day, among several options presented by the General Plan Review Steering Committee, to continue business as usual. The representative for Ranchwood Homes, which just completed a totally illegal mile-long sewer trunk line across County land, testified in favor of continuing business as usual, saying that since the policies and procedures aren’t broken, why fix them (when they are already so well fixed by Ranchwood).

The letter, written by attorney Marsha Burch, who has represented several petitioners in several suits involving County land-use policies and procedures, asks some pointed questions about how Merced County conducts its business-as-usual.

Below this letter, readers will find yet another request filed with the county Planning Department under the state Public Records Act, for information that has not been provided by the County on the steering committee.

May 2, 2006

Via Email and Facsimile (209.726.7977):

Merced County Board of Supervisors
2222 M Street
Merced, CA 95340

Re: Proposed General Plan Amendment Policy and Procedures During the General Plan Update Process – set for public hearing May 2, 2006, Item No. 55

Dear Supervisors:

This office, in conjunction with the Law Office of Donald B. Mooney, represents the San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center, Protect Our Water and other groups, and these comments supplement comments previously submitted regarding the above-referenced agenda item.

Our clients have continued since April 11, 2006, in their attempts to obtain documents relating to meetings of the general plan steering committee, and have been unsuccessful. The general plan steering committee is apparently meeting, having discussions and making recommendations, including the recommendation that your Board adopt Option 1 at today’s meeting, and our clients have been unable to obtain any minutes or written records of the meetings. There is also no evidence of any public notice or public participation.

The public has not had an opportunity to participate in the development of the alternatives being considered by the Board, and every citizen of Merced County has a stake and an interest in the efficient, effective preparation of the General Plan Update.

There is no urgency requiring adoption of an alternative at today’s meeting. At this time, we do not believe that the public has sufficient information, nor has it had a meaningful opportunity to participate in the development of the alternatives being considered by the Board.
Again, it appears that the Board will determine one of the most complicated issues currently facing the County, without the benefit of a staff report.

We encourage the Board to hold a noticed steering committee meeting and allow the citizens of Merced County to participate in its future in a meaningful way. Comments have been submitted with important information that should be considered. For example, the Grasslands Water District has requested adoption of an alternative other than Option 1, and staff may ignore this information, but the Board should not. Time is not of the essence, and the Board’s duty to serve the citizens of Merced County requires more than a cryptic recommendation from staff with no discussion at all of public input. This item should be continued pending a noticed meeting of the steering committee, and a full staff report summarizing public comment.

Very truly yours,

Marsha A. Burch


cc: San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center
Protect Our Water

Lydia Miller
San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center
P.O. Box 778
Merced, CA 95341

Steve Burke
Protect Our Water (POW)
3105 Yorkshire Lane
Modesto CA 95350

Robert Lewis
Director, Merced County Planning Department
2222 M St.
Merced CA 95340

Date: May 9, 2006 Via- Email

Re: California Public Records Act request to review documents regarding the county General Plan Review Steering Committee, a zoning code amendment and guidance packages.

Dear Mr. Lewis,

Thank you for responding to our CPRA request to view documents regarding the county General Plan Steering Committee. The documents you provided, while helpful, did not adequately comply with the request.

Documents missing, which we request under CPRA to review, include:

· Meeting minutes;
· Public notices;
· No Section A (on the background of the steering committee) or Section B (steering committee proposed topics) on the Feb. 23, memo;
· Board or other action that created the county General Plan Review Steering Committee.

In addition, we would like to view documents that show where the public has the right and ability to appeal the zoning code text amendment permitting additional dwellings on agricultural parcels.

We also reiterate our CPRA request to view documents that describe the nature of a “guidance package.”

We would like to review these records at a time and place to be arranged, prior to any copying taking place. We look forward to hearing from you regarding this arrangement. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us. Thank you for your time and courtesy.

We await your timely reply.

Lydia M. Miller Steve Burke