Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Amador County Draft General Plan & Program EIR - Another Look, Part 2

Mark Bennett apparently prefers to alarm rather than inform in his second Commentary on the draft General Plan Update. He seems to be saying that the residents of Amador County are doomed to suffer from the Government’s plans, as if such plans have already been decided.

If he were truly interested in informing, he could instead write that the citizens of the county are being provided the chance to respond to the Planning Department’s proposed mitigations to the identified environmental impacts. He could point out that, as announced in Monday’s ACN, an additional public meeting has been scheduled, and that the Comment period has been extended to January 15, 2015.

He seems to downplay the extensive preparation and groundwork that has gone into what is now an eight-year process, as well as the significant amount of citizen and agency input received. 

Appendix A of the Draft EIR describes the stage of the process called the NOP, Notice of Preparation, which was submitted in July 2009. The section titled Project History and Planning goes into the timeline and process:

“Amador County initiated a comprehensive General Plan update in 2006. Public participation played an important role in the preparation of the Draft General Plan. Because the Draft General Plan reflects the goals of the community, citizen input was essential to identify issues and formulate goals. The public had several opportunities to participate, including the following:

“Five introductory community workshops were held during September 2006. These workshops provided an introduction to the General Plan update process and a forum to discuss visions for the future. Discussion at each workshop focused on four broad elements – community, character, resources, and services.

“Twenty-seven (27) General Plan Advisory Committee (GPAC) meetings, were held on a bi-weekly to monthly basis from July 2006 through April 2008. The public participated in GPAC discussions of issues and opportunities, existing conditions, vision, goals, and land use alternatives.

“The County hosted workshops and open houses on alternatives, goals, and policies in June and September 2008.

“Two rounds of study sessions before a joint session of the Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission in October and November 2008, and March through July 2009.

“General Plan documents, including meeting agendas and summaries, background working papers, draft goals and policies, and draft land use alternatives, have been continuously posted on the county’s website for public access since 2006."

The review period for the NOP was from July 30 to August 31, 2009, and input from citizens and agencies was received. Respondents included:
  • Amador Citizens for Smart Growth
  • Amador County Transportation Commission
  • The Amador County Business Council
  • Amador Water Agency
  • Amador Olive Oil
  • Cal Fire
  • Caltrans - Div. of Aeronautics
  • California Public Utilities Commission
  • East Bay Municipal Utility District
  • Department of Fish and Game
  • Amador County Public Health Dept.
  • Sacramento County Planning & Community Development
  • Foothill Conservancy
  • Thomas P. Infusino, Pine Grove resident, on behalf of Foothill Conservancy
  • Sue Hokana, Fiddletown resident

The above list of interested parties is evidence that many people have provided ongoing oversight regarding many of the elements and measures of the Draft EIR. It is interesting to read the detailed recommendations made by organizations such as the Amador Citizens for Smart Growth, The Amador Business Council, and the Foothill Conservancy.

The negative tone of Mr. Bennett’s commentary is not helpful, in my view. He seems to view the process as being ideological in intent. Characterizing it as producing a “Count Dracula or Frankenstein document” with “no soul” that will doom us to a “zombie-like” lifestyle is unnecessary hyperbole.

As one example, he cites 4.2-1 (2-9)- the identified impact of future development resulting in farmland conversion of 307 acres. Such development could be residential dwellings, future mining, construction of roadways, and future public facilities. Curiously, he speculates that an example of a public facility could be a “welfare office”.

Proposed mitigation 4.2-1a states: “It is the County’s objective to maintain key farmlands for agricultural and agritourism uses, and reduce impacts related to conversion of Farmland (Prime Farmland, Farmland of Local or Statewide Importance, and Unique Farmland) to other uses.

“The County will seek to maintain key farmlands and “will also work with cities and LAFCO to promote the protection of Farmland, including identifying alternatives to expansion of spheres of influence into areas of Farmland.”

According to Cal LAFCO, “Local Agency Formation Commissions (LAFCos) are local agencies mandated by the State legislature to:
- Encourage the Orderly Formation of Local Governmental Agencies
- To Preserve Agricultural Land Resources
- To Discourage Urban Sprawl

“LAFCo must consider the effect that any proposal will produce on existing agricultural lands. By guiding development toward vacant urban land and away from agricultural preserves, LAFCo assists with the preservation of our valuable agricultural resources.

“Urban sprawl can best be described as irregular and disorganized growth occurring without apparent design or plan. This pattern of development is characterized by the inefficient delivery of urban services (police, fire, water, and sanitation) and the unnecessary loss of agricultural resources and open space lands. By discouraging sprawl, LAFCo limits the misuse of land resources and promotes a more efficient system of local governmental agencies.”

It is clear to me that decisions regarding elements such as farmland conversion, effects of night time lighting, and air pollution will be made with careful consideration and input from concerned citizens and agencies. The product of these efforts will not be “land control schemes”, looking “like the aristocratic land tenure system of the Middle Ages”. The process is intended to be a positive, orderly, and transparent one, in my opinion, with the outcome entirely up to us.

D. Norman

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Amador County Draft General Plan & Program EIR - Another Look

Mark Bennett’s opinion piece on the Planning Department’s General Plan Update contains, I believe, some misstatements and misleading interpretations.

Before dealing with specifics, I would like to point out that in the age of the Internet, it is really unnecessary to print out lengthy documents. Pointing out how large a document is seems to be en vogue amongst the politically-motivated. The thinking goes: A document measures over a couple of inches tall, so there must be something wrong with it.

I, too, have spent time poring over both documents. Rather than use all that expensive printer ink, I bookmarked the individual sections (conveniently provided as hyperlinks) for easy access and opening. Much more efficient than paper, in my opinion. And HP already has enough of my hard-earned money.

Mr. Bennett takes issue with the Planning Department for creating two documents, a Draft EIR and a Draft General Plan. The implication is that they went through “this expense of money and human effort” through their own bureaucratic volition, even though they provided detailed reasons at the beginning of the EIR. 

As explained in the Introduction, “According to the State CEQA Guidelines (Section 15168[a]), a state or local agency should prepare a program EIR, rather than a project EIR…"

“A key advantage of a program EIR is that it allows the lead agency to consider broad policy alternatives and ‘program-wide mitigation measures’ at an early time when the agency has greater flexibility to deal with basic problems or cumulative impacts." (State CEQA Guidelines Section 15168(b)(4).)

"…the program EIR addresses the impacts of the Draft General Plan, which is the proposed ‘project’, as defined by CEQA. As a program EIR, this document focuses on the general effects of the Draft General Plan. The analyses in this EIR do not examine the project-specific effects of projects or programs that may implement the Draft General Plan. State CEQA Guidelines Section 15146(b) provides that an EIR prepared for a general plan should focus on the secondary environmental effects to be expected following adoption, but that the EIR need not be as detailed as one prepared for the specific construction projects that follow.”

Creating the two documents, therefore, was done in accordance with the guidelines of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

Mr. Bennett misstates the intent and impact of the program EIR. It is not meant to be “specific”, as he claims. Again, from the Introduction: “Although the legally required contents of a program EIR are the same as those of a project EIR; in practice, there are differences in level of detail. Program EIRs are typically conceptual and abstract. They contain a more general discussion of impacts, alternatives, and mitigation measures than do project-level EIRs.”

As further outlined in Section 1.1.1 of the Introduction, the program EIR is “the first tier of environmental review and creates a foundation upon which future, project-specific CEQA documents can build. This program EIR will, in practice, help determine the need for subsequent environmental documentation, as well as dictate the scope of project level CEQA review.”

For example, using Mr. Bennett’s example, if a specific project were to involve putting up a commercial building in the vicinity of a hiking trail, the program EIR streamlines the process. From 1.1.1: “Through tiering, project-level environmental analysis can be limited in scope to site-specific environmental impact issues following the preparation of an EIR for a general plan.” It is Mr. Bennett’s opinion that this streamlined process is a way to “make future development less controversial since they are conceptually pre-approved”, and “should inhibit the relatively pandemic litigation now plaguing our small county”. Also, it “is not about guiding growth, but rather from preventing anything from happening”. In many readings, I have been unable to find any basis for any of these assertions.

Mr. Bennett seems to have lost sight of the purpose of CEQA. From the Office of the AG: “CEQA does not directly regulate land uses, but instead requires state and local agencies within California to follow a protocol of analysis and public disclosure of environmental impacts of proposed projects and adopt all feasible measures to mitigate those impacts.”

Mark Bennett’s comments on the draft General Plan Update in my opinion run contrary to the expressed aim of the Amador Community News. The ACN is a site that provides community news, information, and other resources. Articles and other submissions are expected to be non-partisan and politically neutral. When a commenter uses language like “the well-funded environmental elite”, and characterizes the orderly planning process as “like the Frankenstein monster, or Agenda 21, it has no soul”, what can the reader conclude about the author? I encourage people to research Agenda 21, a worldwide sustainable growth action plan, as well as the opposition to it.

Mr. Bennett promises to advance additional thoughts in future commentaries. I would hope that he looks upon such future submissions as an opportunity to inform, without the unnecessary political content.

D. Norman

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Marriage Equality - Some Additional Perspective

Philip Young’s guest commentary of November 10 frames the issue of gay marriage in a way that begs for some historical perspective. In his words, marriage between one man and one woman is “…fundamental essential for survival and ascent of the species”, and any argument to the contrary is “…limited in its reach to alter the biological , historic and evolutionary record and facts.”

I believe that even a cursory knowledge of how and when the institution of marriage came into being helps to give one a helpful perspective when considering this issue. The following is excerpted from an article in the website (Americans United for Separation of Church and State), written in April 2013:

“A view of marriage as a purely civil institution continued as the nation grew, mainly for pragmatic reasons. Clergy were often in short supply in unsettled areas, so couples had to make other arrangements.

“ ‘There was much less state supervision of marriage in the early years of this country and during the colonial period before that,’ Emily R. Gill, a professor of political science at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., and author of the recent book An Argument for Same-Sex Marriage, told Church & State. ‘It was much more common to regard couples as married if they were known by the community as a couple.’

“Such ‘informal marriages’ were common in thinly settled regions until well into the 19th century. There were few laws governing this issue. Most states did not begin to seriously regulate marriage until the post-Civil War period.

“When they did, religious groups were quick to step up. Before long, marriage ceremonies were closely associated with religious iconography. A bride in a dazzling white dress with a long train and a tuxedo-wearing groom stand before a cleric who makes the union official by intoning the words ‘By the power vested in me by the state’ – literally allowing the church to briefly assume the function of the government.”

In short, it wasn’t until the late 19th century that the States even began to regulate marriage. Claims defending the historical longevity of the institution lose their credibility, given that realization.

Mr. Young contends that “It must be and must remain the Will of the People who determine cultural values NOT the Federal Government or the Judicial, or the Executive or the Legislative.”

But there was a time when “the will of the people” was that interracial marriage be outlawed. In the present day, most people would be appalled if it were still illegal for interracial couples to marry.

Continuing from the AU site:
“Given that power, many religious groups used it to lobby legislators to define marriage by what the Bible supposedly said. Laws banning interracial marriage, which were common in many Southern states, were buttressed with citations from the Bible.

“In a famous case from the late 1960s, a Virginia judge invalidated an interracial couple’s marriage, asserting that God wanted the races to be separate. (The decision was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967’s Loving v. Virginia ruling.)”

Regarding another point offered by Mr. Young, that “there will never be a better functioning system than Marriage between one man and one woman; given the metric of successfully bearing and raising offspring.”

Given that metric, what does that say about marriages between infertile heterosexual couples? Or what about heterosexual couples that are past child-bearing age? Or couples that choose not to have children? A 2013 article in the Chattanooga Free Press reported: “A 2010 Pew Research report showed that childlessness has risen across all racial and ethnic groups, adding up to about one in five American women who end their childbearing years maternity-free, compared with one in 10 in the 1970s.”

There is one more assertion made by Mr. Young, having to do with the negative impact to children not being brought up, again in his words, in  “a normal and functioning Traditional Family. Composed of One Man and One Woman unified in the concept and intent of Marriage.”

In response, I submit a study abstract published in 2013 by the American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health:

“Extensive data available from more than 30 years of research reveal that children raised by gay and lesbian parents have demonstrated resilience with regard to social, psychological, and sexual health despite economic and legal disparities and social stigma. Many studies have demonstrated that children's well-being is affected much more by their relationships with their parents, their parents' sense of competence and security, and the presence of social and economic support for the family than by the gender or the sexual orientation of their parents. Lack of opportunity for same-gender couples to marry adds to families’ stress, which affects the health and welfare of all household members. Because marriage strengthens families and, in so doing, benefits children’s development, children should not be deprived of the opportunity for their parents to be married. Paths to parenthood that include assisted reproductive techniques, adoption, and foster parenting should focus on competency of the parents rather than their sexual orientation.”

Academic studies such as these are not "irrelevant", in my view, and serve to correct misconceptions and bias with actual facts. I believe that the views of Mr. Young and others are steadily being diminished by the accelerating tide of public awareness, understanding, and compassion. As we see nearly every day in the news media, marriage equality is being swept into widespread acceptance by that tide.

D. Norman

Monday, November 10, 2014

Separation of Church and State: Upholding marriage between one man and one woman

SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE and STATE AND FEDERAL GOVERNMENT: Upholding Marriage and Between one Man and One Woman. p.c. young Nov 7 2014

It must be and must remain the Will of the People who determine cultural values NOT the Federal Government or the Judicial, or the Executive or the Legislative.

The Constitution and Bill of Rights is saliently a document protecting the individual; regardless of prevailing political perspective. What arises in the State must be protected against further Federal intrusions.
Marriage between one man and one woman remains an essential and NECESSARY fundamental essential for survival and ascent of the species.

While some liberal tendency or inclination may feel some intellectual disdain for this limitation, it will remain an academic and therefore irrelevant argument, ever limited in its reach to alter the biological , historic and evolutionary record and facts.

No one after all has declared partnerships as illegal. Partnerships are whatever those who enter into that association or relation wish it to be. Thus there is no animus intended or implied.

Yet Marriage is a unification of the two into one. In the legal sense and the biological sense. There is yet no substitution or equivalency for biological reproduction or the unique investment by those parents in bearing and raising offspring.

There can thus never be comparison between partnerships and marriage. They are incomparable and therefore not subject to interpretations as to its "equality" in the eyes of the law.

While there will be the predictable backlash from those who adopt and will attempt to cite their love and devotion , the failure of Marriage to function correctly in all cases, the divorce rate, domestic violence and a never ending litany of exclusionary arguments to invalidate Marriage; there will never be a better functioning system than Marriage between one man and one woman; given the metric of successfully bearing and raising offspring.

After all if we critically examine what is required to provide for a child; it quickly becomes a bewildering array of tasks, expenditures and investments emotional and physical. That a healthy child requires any number of necessities and then some.

Beyond providing we should also be aware that the critical metric, usually missing from most discussions as to what constitutes a healthy child, is that which will contribute to producing a productive, self reliant child a performing adult who does not burden others and is self sufficient and hopefully will give back in measures greater than that received.

That's progress. That's advancement, that's ascendance of the individual and that of society. Its that end objective that has been the admired accomplishment of proud parents.

While some may feel it can arise, almost like spontaneous generation, from a single parent household or a same sex partnership, the greatest confidence in that result arises from the assumption of a normal and functioning Traditional Family. Composed of One Man and One Woman unified in the concept and intent of Marriage.

Philip Young
Director, North Eastern California Conservative Party

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Last-minute, PAC-financed Novelli mailer and late donations raise concerns about out-of-county influence in District Three Supervisor election

Amador County District Three voters recently received a glossy, color campaign mailing promoting incumbent Ted Novelli for Amador County Supervisor paid for by the “Accountability and Safety Education Fund PAC,” with a return address of a political communications firm in Gridley, California. Josh F.W. Cook, Assemblyman Brian Dahle’s chief of staff, is a principal in that firm. The firm lists a variety of clients on its website, including JTS Properties, which has development interests in Amador County.

When asked for information about the PAC by e-mail, Cook replied that it is available in the “county clerk’s” office, yet no information could be located in Jackson today. A search of the Secretary of State’s records had similar results. Cook has not responded to requests for information on donors to the PAC.

Novelli’s campaign also filed a late campaign statement that shows three $1,000 donations from residents of Sacramento, Folsom and El Dorado Hills. All were made after October 19.

“I’m concerned to see a mysterious outside political action committee spending money on our local supervisor’s race,” said Pine Grove resident Lori Jagoda. “It can’t help but make you wonder whose money they’re spending and what those people may want in return. District Three voters deserve to know who is giving money and providing support to candidates for office.”

For more information contact Lynne Standard Nightengale at 209-295-4807