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Lynne Plambeck: Who is in charge?

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: March 10, 2010 10:02 p.m.
Updated: March 11, 2010 4:55 a.m.
I will never forget stopping into the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Department several years ago to discuss an issue with a planner. She told me she didn’t have time to talk because she and another planner were due in Supervisor Michael Antonovich’s office shortly for their weekly planning briefing, but I could join them on the walk through the basement tunnel to his office to talk, if I wanted to.

I wondered for months about why staff planners would have a weekly meeting with a supervisor in his office. It seemed odd at the time.

So the recent audit regarding the regional planning director’s charges about interference was no surprise.

This county audit purported to investigate whether the charges leveled by former Planning Director Bruce McClendon of board interference with the planning department were based in fact.  

What a silly waste of taxpayers’ money. Of course a report by Rose Associates, LLC, would not find any conclusive evidence. This firm’s many other county contracts must be approved by the very supervisors it is investigating.

What CEO in his right mind would jeopardize his company’s ability to receive future contracts? To achieve complete impartiality, a firm with no fiscal ties to Los Angeles County should have preformed the audit.

McClendon’s files were confiscated when he was dismissed, so of course he had a bit of trouble defending himself.

Now the public is left not knowing the true story behind such issues as what changes where made to the Green Building Ordinance by the Building Industry Association, or the issues surrounding water availability, among other alleged problems.

Any director who has worked with a split board must sympathize with the position in which McClendon found himself. One supervisor’s aide tells the staff to do one thing, another tells them to do the opposite.

Planners become confused and may fear for their jobs under such circumstances. They then may not make the best decisions on behalf of the public or in accordance with the law. That is why in any agency, staff direction is supposed to come from the director, not from board members.

Of course the board sets policy, so in the end, if the majority of the board does not support the language of the Green Building Ordinance, it will not pass.  

But it is the public that loses when such discussions go on behind closed doors. The public is supposed to be in on this debate. We want to know which supervisor supported drought-tolerant landscaping and other new green ideas and which ones didn’t.

We want to support those ideas and their proponent, and we want to make suggestions. After all, even the county is supposed to be run by democratic principles.

With the many questions about water supply in the Santa Clarita Valley, from the huge population increase in One Valley, One Vision to the 21,000-unit Newhall Ranch project and even the 1,400-unit Skyline Ranch, you can bet we also want to be able to hear the debate about water availability.

No direction to staff about this important subject should take place in the back room or in a supervisor’s office. We want the opportunity to be part of the discussion.

The issue surrounding water availability legislation is especially puzzling. There is really no need for legislation requiring water supply reports for smaller projects in Los Angeles County because we have the development monitoring system. The DMS is supposed to analyze water availability for all new projects in urban expansion areas such as Santa Clarita.

Also, county planners must know that the California Environmental Quality Act requires a complete examination and disclosure of water supplies during the environmental review process.

If our water supply fails when the tens of thousands of additional approved units are finally built, lack of full disclosure by the water agencies regarding water supplies will be partly to blame.

But in the end, the Board of Supervisors is the final decision-maker.

Its failure to allow the planning department to search out and disclose water-supply problems — or to accept evidence brought by the public or to refrain from directing from behind closed doors so that the public does not even have the opportunity provide contradicting data — will be the root cause of any future water supply problems.  

Lynne Plambeck is president of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment (SCOPE) and a Santa Clarita resident. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Environmentally Speaking” appears Thursdays in The Signal and rotates among local environmentalists.


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