County Consent Agenda – how it works
When an item is on the Consent Agenda for the Board of Supervisors’ regular Tuesday meeting, the assumption is made that it has been evaluated and vetted and discussed, or gone through some process, so that it is ready to be approved without further ado. All items put on the Consent Agenda are adopted in a block, as written, without public comment or input. There is always a wide range of items. The Agenda for a Board of Supervisors’ Tuesday meeting is published the Friday before for the public to review.
One item jumped out when it appeared on the official Board of Supervisors’ Agenda for January 13, distributed Friday, January 9th – a “Resolution Supporting the Santa Cruz County Working Lands Resolution” http://sccounty01.co.santa-cruz.ca.us/BDS/Govstream2/Bdsvdata/non_legacy_2.0/agendas/2015/20150113-647/PDF/030-1.pdf The Resolution was submitted by Supervisors Bruce McPherson (our 5th District representative) and Supervisor Ryan Coonerty (1st District) – recently elected to the Board.
Happily there are a number of people who regularly read through the Agendas to see if there are topics of interest. The Resolution was examined and was found problematic. Quickly a large group of people and organizations networked and began to respond. Board Members were contacted, asking that it be removed from the Consent Agenda because of its lack of public comment and its potentially disturbing ramifications — and that it should not be allowed to sneak in under the radar. No one knew where it came from, what its intent was, how it might impact future decision-making, and whether it was intended to circumvent environmental input.
We discussed it at the Environmental Committee Meeting that Saturday and decided to join the Sempervirens Fund, local Sierra Club leaders and many others trying to remove it from the Consent Agenda and seek to answer some of the questions.
The Resolution was couched in environmental terms but it had some odd phrasing (“fiber” used for timber harvests) and some language that is often used to disguise removing environmental protections. There is also the concern that he WLR implies that land preservation is actually a threat, because it could take working lands out of commodity production. This turns the whole concept of land preservation on its head! (An example can be seen at the world-famous Elkhorn Slough where a large dairy property was restored as a part to the protected lands around the Slough and is vital to the restoration of the waterway and its wildlife.
Among other issues brought out about the Resolution, as written, are the following:
1. The WLR is premature. As a county, we will soon have a community discussion about the potential formation of an open space district. That will be the appropriate time to discuss the different types of lands in the county that need protection and from what. Endorsing a county policy on working lands now puts the cart before the horse. County policy should come AFTER the community discussion, not before.
2. The WLR tells only part of the story about the need for land protection in the county, and it tells it from one perspective. However, the Conservation Blueprint also discusses the need to protect water supply watersheds, biodiversity, and habitat connectivity. Every piece of land is different, and many parcels have overlapping ecosystem services. Working lands should not automatically trump other lands.
3. The documents cited by the WLR are incomplete or unavailable.
4. The WLR’s recommendation for “streamlining” has many implications, including the potential for undercutting CEQA and the public review process.
In response to the many concerns, the Resolution was removed from the Consent Agenda by Susan Mauriello, County Administrative Officer. It is not clear when it will be taken back up again.
In the meantime meetings and conversations with Supervisors Coonerty and McPherson (or his Analysts) have clarified some issues. Apparently the item was not meant to be on the Consent Agenda but was put there in error and there was going to be an effort to involve the public at large, giving the environmental community. a chance to express its concerns. Another is that the language obfuscations will be addressed and the intent clarified. The VWC Environmental Committee will be among those having input on the Resolution and helping the community at large understand it.
Please note that although a Resolution has no enforcement power, it is a statement of policy by the Board of Supervisors and thereby the County. It can be used in arguments and as rationale for a particular point of view in public debates about related issues. It can be used to support additions or changes in ordinances or regulations. So it is important to pay attention to the Agendas and actions of our leaders on the Board of Supervisors. They have a direct impact on our daily lives.