The news sounds great, upon first hearing: The Inyo County Board of Supervisors decided at their March 11th meeting to postpone their decision on the draft Renewable Energy General Plan Amendment (REGPA) until April 1st. This gives us all more time to speak up, speak out, and get involved in creating a better plan for renewable energy in Inyo County.

While the postponement does give us more valuable time, the reasoning behind it is less about your voice and more about the voices of the Planning Department and the Supervisors themselves, and that’s the part of this news that isn’t so great.

During the March 11th Supervisors meeting, the Planning Department stated that the public is being given significant misinformation; apparently the extended timeline allows them to “correct” all the bad info circulating throughout the public sphere, and better explain themselves to the Supervisors. Or to paraphrase the Planning Department: to give the County more time to educate the public. To that end, the Planning Department has released a series of Frequently Asked Questions on their website to address what they believe are misunderstood aspects of the plan.

Things start to get interesting on the FAQ at the fourth question and the answer they provide. It states that the County is “currently gathering input to revisit the criteria from the 2011 REGPA.” The FAQ includes a list of prior and upcoming public meetings regarding the REGPA, showing that the public does, and will continue to have opportunities for their voices to be heard. It fails to state, however, that the result of 30 community members voicing their input and opposition to the current plan at the last meeting on their schedule (February 26th) resulted in the Planning Commission completely ignoring that input – not a good sign of how the Planning Department incorporates that public input they are “currently gathering.”

The answer then mentions one of the statements heard repeatedly during County meetings, that the plan “restricts development over the next 30 to 50 years to less than 0.5 percent of the County, and to a little more than one percent of the Owens Valley.” These numbers are derived from the idea of impact-per-megawatt, and since this author is neither a mathematician nor an engineer, I can’t speak to how one arrives at them. The reality of geography, however, is blatantly simple: regardless of impact-per-megawatts, the REGPA designates 10% of county land as open to development. [pullquote]Ask anyone at the Planning Department how many physical square miles are proposed in the plan, and they will tell you 10% — anything else would be a lie.[/pullquote] Ask anyone at the Planning Department how many physical square miles are proposed in the plan, and they will tell you 10% — anything else would be a lie.

The fifth question and answer on the FAQ explains the Planning Department’s “extensive outreach program,” a way of gathering input as the plan moves forward. The FAQ reminds us that numerous public and stakeholder meetings have already been held. It does not, however, state that the total attendance of all meetings previously held is only around 140 people (the current Deepest Valley petition for conservation, by comparison, has over 740 signatures), and that the vast majority of those involved voiced their opposition to the proposed development areas during those meetings. All of that info is included in the REGPA documentation; the ability of the Planning Department to consider public concern seems to be following a disturbing theme.

The FAQ saves the best/worst for last. It asks in its bold heading, “could the County prohibit renewable energy development?” The answer, of course, is yes, theoretically.  At the absolute very least, the County could do what great numbers of their constituents are asking:  take a firm stand against outside developers moving their industrial-sized projects onto lands we think are unsuitable for this kind of development. But as has been the case at previous meetings, the Planning Department attempts here to woo the public (and the Supervisors) into believing a false dichotomy. The attempt is made to try and establish a future where either the proposals of the REGPA are approved, or else they are thrown out and Inyo County is left open and unprotected to unchecked and widespread development.

This is simply not the case. The REGPA can be improved, changed, and made more appropriately inclusive of the vast public concern about these proposals. The questions being frequently asked by the public include “why can’t we focus on already-disturbed lands?” and “what about point-of-use solar?” and “why should Inyo County bear the burden of producing energy for urban areas when the entire state is involved–especially urban areas like Los Angeles, which has huge point-of-use solar potential?” The public and the Planning Department agree that a plan is a good thing; we apparently disagree, however, on what constitutes an appropriate and respectable plan. 

You’ll soon see a copy of the Planning Department’s Frequently Asked Questions in the Inyo Register. They paid to have it there, an attempt to broaden their reach in more effectively educating the public. The most interesting part of the Planning Department’s claims that the public has been given a lot of misinformation is that the Planning Department itself originally provided any information to the public. The community has been clear and vocal about their concerns regarding the REGPA, and some of that opposition is documented right in the REGPA itself. The community has also been quite vocal that they want to be part of the solution, and to help find a way to implement renewable energy in a way that saves some of our most important and scenic landscapes. Calling the current plan into question is not an attack, and certainly not one on any individual. Calling the current plan into question is an attempt to make it better, and to use our collective thinking to tackle these challenges and increase our renewable energy capacity AND protect our open landscapes — an outcome that hundreds of community members support and believe is possible. Based on their actions, it seems that the Planning Department and County officials are much more in need of help regarding misinformation than the public is. Let’s hope they start accepting that help soon.

 

Correction: This editorial originally stated that 70 people spoke at the February 26th Planning Commission meeting. At that meeting, 30 people spoke to the planning commissioners; 70 is the number of people who attended.

4 Responses

  1. tarakohe

    To the Planning Department Commission and staff, what they label ‘misrepresentation’ is really, as this oped piece makes abundantly clear, simple and sound opposition to their plan, full stop. And ‘education’ for the Planning Commission is in essence one-sided propeganda; the Planning Commission has serious egg on its face after it was so obviously caught in the lie that it takes public input into account in its decisions. Now it is trying to backpedal, but of course without offering up a single change to the and porrly conceived and ill-thought-out plan that it sent to the board of supes.

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  2. Vickie

    My experience has been that the Planning Commission often asks for public input during the smaller civic club meetings, service club meetings and other venues that might reach those citizens not on the internet or interested in attending a free-for-all. Has the author considered those sources in addition to private correspondence or conversation when determining the public feeling regarding solar development in Inyo County?

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    • sweetheartofthevalley (Yaney LeeAnn MacIver)

      Vickie, Those meetings are not really public venues and they aren’t posted for public comment. If they are using those venues, they may be trying to hide what they are doing. There are many folks here on Deepest Valley who are involved in some of the clubs. I wonder if they ever had the Planning Commission come to one of their meetings?

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  3. julie fought

    Yes, I agree, the phrase “misinformation circulating in public” is rather troubling.
    How about, we apologize for the confusing language in the REGPA and are committed to a respectful community process. However that accusing phrase quoted in Inyo Register seems dishonest, and the trend toward covering up, rushing through, ignoring, etc . it also seems predictable. It’s our job to hold them accountable. Kostors’ editorial does just that. And so does everyones research. Thanks to all of you for working so hard on this. Amazing minds! Proud to know this land is honored so. And proud that you all live here (or love here!).

    Reply

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