The views expressed in this editorial are the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of each author, editor, contributor, and curator associated with Deepest Valley.

I was not born and raised in the Owens Valley. Although I have adopted Inyo County and Owens Valley as my home, and have been warmly welcomed by those that have lived here much longer than me, I am in many ways an outsider. I feel a deep connection to this landscape and the sense of place the Owens Valley provides; it is because Inyo County is so unique among the geographies of the world that it has the power to affect me in such a way. I have traveled multiple continents, lived in many places, and seen incredible things; yet it is Inyo County that most fully occupies my sense of home and place. My work as a composer has been fundamentally shaped by Inyo County. I got married in Death Valley. This place is inexorably woven into my work and life.

Right now many of us are spending large portions of our time and energy dealing with the Renewable Energy General Plan Amendment (REGPA) being proposed by the Planning Department and considered by the Inyo County Board of Supervisors. A little context here, in case you’re still getting caught up:

The Planning Department presented the draft REGPA to the Planning Commission on February 26th, where it was sent forward to the Board of Supervisors by the commissioners. Originally the date of March 18th was set for the supervisors to vote on moving the REGPA forward again; this meeting was changed to a public workshop based on community opposition to the plan. The Board of Supervisors will now vote on whether or not to move the REGPA forward on April 1st.

The documentation provided in response to all the public commentary is currently available on the Planning Department’s website. They address many of the concerns voiced during both the February 26th and the March 18th meetings, including some of my own comments. Planning states that many of the concerns were based on misunderstandings of the original documentation, and to the Planning Department’s credit, the language in the new documents is much clearer and easier to understand.

But the entirety of the REGPA experience thus far speaks to a much larger and fundamental problem in Inyo County, and this is where my status as an outsider gives me some observational opportunity. Through all of the meetings, commentary, news articles, and research, a small set of questions continues to go unanswered for me:

Why has this process been so difficult? Why is there so much misunderstanding? Why are the parties involved so at odds with each other? I love Inyo County and call it home, but as an outsider, I am constantly asking myself, “Why are things so bad in Inyo when it comes to the way the county is run?”

Why is there so much animosity towards county government? Why are people afraid to speak up, and why are they afraid of retaliation? Why is there an overwhelming sense that ulterior motives fuel the decisions of county government? Why does the county fear more transparency, or, if they don’t, why is the overwhelming perception that they do?

I certainly won’t say that other counties are perfect, or that other county governments don’t suffer from some (or many) of the same issues. But my experience here in Inyo County is unique, and the issues that repeatedly come up are notable in their frequency and the fact that they always seem to remain the same – neither time, changing political current, changing cultural or social current, nor even the consequences of the problems themselves seem to change the way things go. Why is this?

Concerning the REGPA and the issues currently at the forefront, why has there been so much misunderstanding, as the Planning Department itself has noted on multiple occasions? Why weren’t the original documents as clear and concise as the subsequent ones to be used at the meeting on April 1st? I consider myself to be a fairly smart person; educational institutions seem to agree, seeing as they thought it appropriate to accept me into graduate programs up to the doctoral level. Are all the misunderstandings a result of my own lacking ability to think and assess? I would say it’s fair to assume, based on my knowledge, that the vast majority of people I communicate with in Inyo County are very bright, well-educated people. Do we all somehow share, despite our experiences and successes, an inability to understand any of the materials we’re presented by the Planning Department?

Those of you that have been so active in researching the REGPA documentation, offering suggestions about how to improve it, bringing to light its problems and faults, and helping to make the Board of Supervisors aware of its options, you’ve been doing admirable and good work. But do you share with me a sense that we’ve been basically doing the Planning Department’s job for them? Do you wonder why it took such a contentious process of back-and-forth commentary to get to a reasonable point where we can now finally begin to move cautiously forward (which may yet prove to be a fictitious turn of events on April 1st)? Are you at all angered that you, who do not hold a degree in planning, were left to find and point out to the Board of Supervisors the huge flaws in the REGPA that led to the revisions that will be presented on April 1st? Do you wonder, like me, why we don’t have a Planning Department that does this in the first place, without such outcry and disappointment from the public fueling it? Do you take issue with the fact that, based on our County Administrative Officer’s own words to me, Inyo government deeply appreciates public input on issues, and yet when documentation is released about that input, it condescendingly claims we failed to understand the issue in the first place?

Things have apparently remained unchanged in how the county works for so long, there is currently a substantial feeling in the community that, no matter the community input, the county will continue with “business as usual.” This was obvious after the decisions at the meeting on February 26th. When you start to consider all of these concerns together, it begins to paint quite a dire picture for the future of this amazing and unique place called Inyo.

Even with all of these unanswered questions, the only solution I see as viable lies not with county government, but with the voting public. We need to start making better choices when it comes to who we vote into office. I am extremely thankful to the Board of Supervisors for slowing down in their consideration of the REGPA, and for truly listening to public input. But we have to remember that our elected officials also hire administrative officials in the county. If we want our administrative officials to be held to high standards, we need to elect officials that will do so. The Board of Supervisors should lead the county; the county staff should not lead the Board of Supervisors. I believe many of our current supervisors do have the capability to lead; perhaps the reason they are not has something to do with the fears I previously mentioned. Either way, we’re still going about “business as usual.”

When will that change? When will Inyo County see some real movement forward in the way it handles itself? I hope it’s soon, for the sake of the county’s future. It’s too special a place, and too unique to be without a deep-rooted sense of community, preservation, and productivity between residents and those that we’ve elected and hired to be in charge. As an outsider, I feel like I’m witnessing Inyo County get left behind, blindly holding onto outdated and irresponsible views on how things should be done. As an insider – a community member – I am hoping more than anything that change comes sooner rather than later. The Board of Supervisors has the chance to be part of that change on April 1st. We’ll see if they’re up to it.

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