Peter read some of the discussion in a previous thread and wrote out the following history and thought. I welcome his thoughts, and even agree with some of them. I disagree with others, but when I have the time I’ll place my responses into the thread with everyone else. It’s a long piece, most of it under the fold. Also, some of the sentences appear to have been chopped short, and that may be a formatting conversion issue. I’ll compare what’s below with what was sent to me later and correct them manually. I’ve already done that with a few sentences, but I can’t finish until later and I think the essence of the writing is below.
Let me start by saying that it troubles me deeply to see Bonnie Blackberry and Dan Taranto spoken of in such terms, by bloggers whose ignorance seems to me to be equaled by their arrogance. Bonnie and Dan are two of the most intelligent, selfless, and tireless public servants it has ever been my privilege to know (and work with). You who so facilely demean them have no idea what they have done, for you among so many others, over so many years.
Riding such a high horse makes it hard to see what’s actually down there on the ground. So here’s a little history, for what it may be worth. One person’s version, of course.
I moved to SoHum in 1971. My wife designed a charming little house and I built it. At the outset of the process I applied for a building permit but I let it lapse when I read the fine print and discovered that the house could be abated (bulldozed) because it didn’t conform to the Uniform Building Code; for instance it used recycled lumber, and my electrical outlets weren’t the proper distance apart (they didn’t exist; we used kerosene lamps for the first fourteen years). I also discovered that the Building Department had no interest in flexibility. So my house was illegal, and this was worrisome since I planned to live out my days here.
In 1979 I was asked by a County supervisor to join the Citizens’ Advisory Committee on the Housing Element (CACHE). I knew Dan Taranto, who was heading up the committee; as we were both owner-builders and had both had similar difficulties with the Building Department (at that time separate from the Planning Department) and since we knew that there were quite a lot of other folks in the County in a similar situation we decided that the “alternative owner-builder” should be considered a legitimate component of the county’s housing stock and should be properly represented in the Housing Element along with several other categories of owner building. (The CACHE Subcommittee on Housing Regulations conducted a survey of building permits which indicated that the many forms of owner building accounted for 65% of home building activity in the County). I was the Alternative Owner-Builder representative on the CACHE committee, and the upshot of our work in that specific area was the Alternative Owner-Builder program, which has something over three hundred houses under its umbrella and which is, I’m happy to say, currently accepted by the Planning/Building Department as a legitimate response to a real need.
Comment from Dan (whose memory never fails to astound me): In Dec. 1978 United Stand had failed to get the Class K (state Housing and Community Development guidelines) two year experimental program extended, and it expired with only 6 permits issued. The Health & Building Departments resisted implementation and discouraged participation and actively worked to make the program a failure. Since rural counties around the state were running into the same type of local bureaucratic road blocks, HCD (with Anon Forest on the Commission & Saul Krimsley in Codes and Standards- appointments from United Stand Mendo by a much younger Jerry Brown) worked the Sacto politics to get the HCD to propose making the guidelines into state law. United Stand Humboldt went to the Board of Supes in May 1979 to request that the BoS support the adoption of the HCD Owner Builder Regulations. Concurrently it was revealed that the Humboldt County Chief Building Official had already written a letter to HCD stating that if HCD adopted the Regulations, the Humboldt Board of Supervisors would file a lawsuit against HCD! The Board had not authorized any such thing; it was a shameless lie and an act of insubordination. The Board found out after the fact and were furious. They wrote a letter in support of the HCD regulations, directly repudiating the CBO's letter as unauthorized and false and saying that it should be disregarded. The Board then authorized me to hand carry that letter to the HCDC hearing in Sacto the following day. That was the meeting at which the Chief Building Officials Association President shoved me off the podium when I brought forward the Board authorized letter that he snatched out of my hand and threw on the floor while he put forward CBO Eric Johnson's bogus letter as the legitimate letter from Humboldt. Eric was a short timer after that, and that night the OB Regs were adopted by HCD.
The CACHE committee was a great experience. Dan and the Board chose the membership carefully so as to represent virtually every aspect of housing in the county, and the ca. fifteen-member committee worked very well together over a year and a half of commitment and hard work (I put twenty thousand miles on my vehicles in the process; we were meeting in Eureka three times weekly at one point). From the start, the committee was not satisfied with the approach Staff was taking, which we felt would produce an inferior product so we decided to start from scratch and write the whole thing ourselves. Eric, you say “I have to chuckle whenever someone reads a draft or completed law and refers to ‘the plain language.’ There’s no such thing as ‘plain language’ in law.” How right you are! But there are exceptions; check out the (1981) Housing Element that we produced if you can find one. We wrote it in plain English for the citizenry to understand, and I continue to feel that the document stands as a particularly fine example of one kind of citizen input into the planning process. We really did work hard to produce a good document that dealt as realistically as possible with housing in the County. The Element was approved by all official bodies that dealt with it, and it was spoken of very highly by the state Housing and Community Development Commission. Altogether, the CACHE committee held fifty full committee meetings and ninety-six subcommittee meetings. The Housing Element which it produced was the first Humboldt County general plan element approved by the State, and the first component of what was to become the Framework Plan approved in 1984.
But we realized that there were other kinds of public input besides serving on committees; that the proper functioning of a democratic society requires that all of its governmental functions be done “of, by, and for the people”. So (as a result of efforts by the League of Women Voters and the CACHE committee) the Board formed the Citizens’ Participation Advisory Committee (CPAC) for the express purpose of devising ways to maximize public education and a full range of public participation in the planning process. The result was the Citizen’s Handbook and Sec. 1500 of the (still current) General Plan, which section I continue to feel is something the County should be proud of and should treasure. I know of no other county that has anything quite like it.
Comment from Dan: In 1980, after the League of Women Voters filed a lawsuit against the County for delinquency in developing a General Plan, the CACHE committee sent a letter to the BoS recommending that the upcoming general plan program incorporate a broad public education and participation program. The Board reacted favorably on Oct. 14, 1980 by directing the Planning Dept. to select persons for the Citizens’ Participation Advisory Committee from the list of names submitted from all the other county committees and commissions on file with the Clerk to the board. CACHE submitted our (Dan’s and my) names. We were selected by the Planning Dept. – by that time our our support was 5/0 with the BoS – Planning could not evade appointing us.
Recall that on CPAC our goal was to prepare a Citizen Handbook, the draft being completed in Summer of 1981. Thirty pages of narrative, charts, planning history and 5 pages of proposed PPP (public participation policy) which was submitted to the scrutiny of the Planning Commission with public hearings, and subsequently before the BoS. The final handbook was adopted on Oct. 1982 as part of Sec. 1500 of the General Plan.
Not everyone approved of the CACHE committee’s work. The Planning, Building, and Health Departments had opposed us constantly regarding the owner-builder programs; fortunately the Board and the Commission usually supported us but a lot of time and energy was wasted. But then, maybe three months after the General Plan was passed, staff took it upon themselves to simply rewrite the Housing Element (with no direction or proper right to do so), taking out the stuff they didn’t like. We put it back (the Board re-activated the CACHE for that purpose).
Three years passed; then Dan called me up and said “We ride again!” He then sent me a copy of the Planning/Building Department’s program for, I have to say, putting those owner-builders in their place; the Code Enforcement Program. I’d have to spill a lot of ink to adequately explain how hideous this program was; it was filled with things like deputizing building inspectors, who would be allowed to enter your property and inspect without notice any unlocked building at any time they deemed “reasonable”; astronomical fines, and on and on and on. I marked two hundred and thirty-seven things in the program as objectionable; we realized that we did indeed have to “ride again”.
At that time they were jabbing their finger in Dan’s chest at the P/BD, saying “We’re going to do it this time, Dan!” Dan had other ideas, but we had only two weeks to implement them before the matter went before the Board, so we (United Stand) really burned during those two weeks. KMUD was a great asset; we took every opportunity we could find to get on TV and to otherwise inform people regarding what was coming at them. We put copies of the C.E.P. in every library in the county and urged everyone not to take our word for anything; to read the document for themselves, to form their own conclusions, and to show up at the Board hearing prepared to speak their minds.
We created enough of a stir that the Board realized that their chambers probably wouldn’t be adequate, so they decided to move the meeting to the Municipal Auditorium. When Dan and I got there we weren’t sure how many people would come; we were gratified to find that we couldn’t get a parking space within several blocks of the auditorium. People were spilling out of the place already; they had signs, they had things to say, and they proceeded to say them. By the time the hearings (five of them, the last four at Redwood Acres Fair Grounds) concluded, there were something like a hundred and fifty people still left to speak. Virtually every segment of the community was represented; a politician’s dream. It cut across all the usual barriers because it was your homethat was being threatened and, believe me, it was.
Total attendance at the CEP hearings was around forty-five hundred. Reportedly there were about thirty police officers in riot gear backstage at the overflowing first hearing, in readiness for crowd control (we had met with the police beforehand and assured them that there would be no problem; they didn’t share our view). The whole video of the hearings is on the internet (google 1988 Humboldt Code Enforcement Hearings; if nothing else, check out Dan’s standing-ovation presentation at the first hearing), and it’s also available from Access Humboldt. Quite an interesting example of citizen input into the planning process. It’s worth mentioning that Dale Reinholtzen (now Judge), who chaired the hearings, did an excellent job, allowing every one of the literally hundreds of people who spoke to do so freely. A far cry from the usual three minute limit, and much more informative for the decision makers.
To shorten the story (I’m trying!), the upshot of it all was that the Code Enforcement Program was completely shot down. End of case. Except that it wasn’t at all; the Program wasn’t killed. It was simply put on the shelf while the P/BD waited for the Supervisors’ attention span to expire; then they started to take things that they wanted from the Program piecemeal and slip them past the Board, which I’m sorry to say was altogether too easy to do because the Board (understandably but still unfortunately) tends to take staff’s word for everything; as they say, “the sergeants run the army”.
Perhaps the prime example of this was the “Code Enforcement Strike Force” which, when we saw what they were planning, we realized had to be dealt with. So we got a committee formed by the Board for that purpose (Ed Denson and Fred Bauer will remember this one; they were on that committee). We held a series of meetings with the County Administrative Officer and worked out sixteen changes which, while they by no means solved all the problems with the proposal, did ameliorate them significantly. Then the CAO went behind our back, took out half of the changes we’d agreed on, and slipped it past the Board. The P/BD, incidentally, realized early on that they weren’t going to have smooth sailing with this one; it took them about a week to figure out that “Code Enforcement Strike Force” might be a bit too candid, so they changed it to the “Community Assistance Team”; it is now known and loved as the Code Enforcement Unit (remember the problems we’ve had with them?) That’s how the CEU got started. (Dan was only able to attend the first of these committee meetings because he’d just been elected President of the California Grand Jurors’ Association pursuant to which, among other things, he spent thirteen summers traveling around the state on his own dime, informing local Grand Juries about their rightful powers.)
Comment from Dan: 2007 Yee Haw, with guns pointed at women and children, officers kicking in doorways and ordering occupants out into the cold morning air without being allowed to get dressed. Some 12-13 armed to the teeth CEU Strike Force officers ransacked the dwellings looking for drugs but came up totally empty handed .
Nonetheless, the County subsequently filed a million dollar lawsuit against the 25 Yee Haw occupants for unfair competition with legitimate local landlords by having below market rents (free) to homeless folks. There were no charges filed for any hazards or threats to the community.
The Code Enforcement Task Force (CETF) was appointed by the board with 2 supervisors, the CAO, 3 CLMP representatives and 3 at large. One of the report findings was that the CEU had violated every one of the seven responsibilities they were directed to follow in 1994. The CETF produced 17 unanimous recommendations that were overwhelmingly ignored by the Board & County Counsel. (Dan and Bonnie, by the way, were both on that Task Force.)
Then came (trumpets, please!) the General Plan Update. Normally such reviews take three years at most (this one is, I believe, in its thirteenth year) because if a GP is a good one it won’t require much change. State requirements will have changed and must be met, and various circumstances within the county will also have changed and will need to be addressed, but the intent is to update, not completely rewrite the Plan.
But the Planning Department decided that they wanted what amounted essentially to a whole new plan. Now, anyone who wasn’t born yesterday realizes that a great deal of “politics” goes into any governmental process, and the revision of a General Plan is no exception. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, particularly if you know the mechanic. In this case we had a highly motivated group (Healthy Humboldt), who had the Planning Director fully in agreement with their goals. And now begins the irony, because we at United Stand were absolutely supportive of these goals, which were essentially to protect the environment and to control development. But we were faced with two problems; first, the HH folks, in their zeal to protect “resource lands” failed to grasp the realities of the thousands of county residents who were owner builders and/or lived well beyond the end of community services. They had a usually unspoken (but sometimes admitted; e.g the Planning Director was quoted to me as saying “They shouldn’t be out there”) attitude that the presence of humans on “resource lands” necessarily degraded them. The second problem was that they simply would not listen to us (with the primary and nearly the only exception of Dan Ehresman) when we tried to explain to them that we hillfolk were generally good stewards of the land that we loved, that most of us were environmentally aware (I and several of my neighbors were on the Board of an international environmental organization long before Healthy Humboldt drew its first breath); that we put out way more fires than we ever started, etc, etc, etc. They thus forced us (United Stand) to fight them, not only because of the threat they posed to our (brace yourself, Jon) property rights but more importantly because of the threat they posed to the democratic process that some of us worked so hard to protect with Sec. 1500 of the General Plan.
This needs to be explained. It’s one thing to talk about public input and quite another to actually bring it about. Eric, Jon, Mark Lovelace and plenty of others will continue to honk away about all the public input that was taken; all the meetings, all the consultations with different groups, and on and on. And on the face of it this sounds perfectly reasonable. But if you dig a little deeper things look very different.
Sure, there were quite a lot of meetings but they were not what Sec. 1500 required. It was business as usual with the meetings and with the Board and Commission hearing a lot of three-minute comments, but in effect that was largely window dressing. Every few years the Commission has a General Plan Update plopped (in this case crashed) down on their crowded desk and they have to make sense of its many complexities. Not to worry; they have Planning Department staff right at their elbows to tell them what everything means and what to do about it. Particularly if a substantial percentage of speakers happen to agree with staff the results are a foregone conclusion. But where is careful study of the facts, along with different points of view regarding those facts, especially from people who have real expertise in any given matter? Three minute sound bites are simply inadequate; this is what we were seeking to redress in the letter that I sent to the Commission that Jon so liberally excoriates. If anyone believes that it’s appropriate to just leave things to staff because they’re the experts, I have a Congress I’d like to sell them.
A significant tidbit: Kirk Girard (Planning Department Director) once sent Dan a letter attempting to back up the claim that there’d been plenty of public input into the GPU. He included a list of every meeting they’d had; I think there were thirty-six of them. We were familiar with that list; it was already (identical; verbatim except as below) in a proposed Housing Element appendix. BUT… seventy-five percent of those meetings weren’t public at all; they were with special interest (“stakeholder”) groups and were identified as such in the list (and the general public wasn’t even allowed into some of those meetings). But in that letter Kirk changed every one of the stakeholder meetings on the list from “stakeholder” to “public” meetings. Think about what that act implies, and maybe our “screaming about the Citizens’ Advisory Groups mandated by Sec. 1500″ will make more sense.
The Planning Department, in updating the General Plan (or in any other activities), was legally required to follow the current Plan’s directions for doing so, and that certainly included Sec. 1500, which gave extensive instructions (many of which were specifically mandatory) to the PD regarding what they were to do with regard to public input. But the Planning Director decided (he DID, guys!) to simply ignore the whole Section. The only way he could do this legally was to have the Board amend the General Plan specifically to allow it, and he never did that. He just drove on, and the Board just went along with him as they too often have done throughout my thirty-five years of experience with them (but not always; over time and where it counts the Board has been supportive of our work). And then (he DID, guys! If you’re going to hold forth about County planning you need to know these things) he tried to completely remove Sec. 1500 from the General Plan.
So into the breach we jumped. Dan (who, remember, helped write Sec. 1500) made it his business to focus on the necessity for keeping Sec. 1500 in the General Plan in as effective a form as possible. Bonnie Blackberry had joined us in a very meaningful way back when the Code Enforcement Unit brouhaha went down; she understood right away what we were dealing with, owing to her decades of experience with CLMP in addressing similar dynamics. I had to deal with a problem in the proposed Housing Element (the PD was trying to simply throw out two hundred and twenty-five items in the Element, many of them important, and they were doing so in a particularly sneaky way, making an end run around public participation. I eventually got seventy of them put back) but when that was done I joined Dan, Bonnie, and others in fighting to retain Sec. 1500.
Then a very interesting thing happened. We were already acquainted with the Coalition for Property Rights; they had asked Dan and me to be on their Board early on and we declined, but we both agree that they have done almost exactly what they always claimed to do; protect property rights. Now, when they fly the banner of property rights you really shouldn’t be surprised when realtors and developers flock to that banner. But CPR hasn’t just stood up for those interests; they have also consistently defended the rights of small property owners such as AOB folk, and as I hope I have adequately indicated, those rights too often do need to be defended. The CPR people are indeed generally “conservatives” and they do tend to have the usual shortcomings for which that group is well known, perhaps most significantly the notion that if left alone without regulation people can be counted on to behave responsibly. But the “liberals” suffer from their own shortcomings (such as acting as though they think they don’t have any).
CPR, NCHB, and other right-leaning folks that left-leaning folks love to hate turned out to share our view that just talking about democracy was fatally inadequate; it had to be practiced. And they understood that Sec. 1500 was designed to maximize the chances of that happening. They also understood the nature and the extent of the threat. So we worked together, on something that we agreed was important and in the common interest. We had a bridge between two different shores that (as we see for example in Congress and most blogs) too often stay apart, and we got to know and to like each other in a way that we otherwise probably wouldn’t have. We enjoyed working with these people. When they disagree with me they’ll say “Peter, you’re full of shit.” I’ll say “How so?” They’ll tell me how; if I don’t agree we’ll talk until we reach the limits of our ability to understand each other and then we’ll agree to disagree and have a beer. Try that with some of these “liberals”! I know I’m painting with a broad brush here but there’s a point to be made.
Comment from Dan: Don’t forget HELP and the League of Women Voters, who supported Section 1500 and offered to help with the Handbook.
They realized that the provisions for Public Education & Participation were not complied with. The very agency charged with administering and implementing the Gen. Plan knowingly and willfully withheld the information about §1500, and knowingly deleted it without due process or explanation. They quietly deleted the County General Plan citizens’ Bill of Rights to be informed and provided with reasonable participation opportunities. The BoS of 2008 -2011 acted oblivious and did nothing to rectify the problem even though it was repeatedly spotlighted. The staff did everything to assure that the public participation provisions would not be discussed until dead last, when of course they should have been discussed first as was done with the framework plan. These are acts of malfeasance.
Quite a few “liberals” jumped all over us for consorting with the enemy. They made, and continue to make, claims such as that Dan, Bonnie, and I “used the language and anger from a relatively small group of property owners…(to) delay the GPU completion in the name of insufficient public participation until …(our) hand-picked conservative supervisors got into office…(to create) an ineffectual General Plan…” They speak of our “screaming about CAGs (Citizens’ Advisory Groups mandated by Sec. 1500)”. They claim that “CPR members apparently feel that the process was flawed because the GPU didn’t account for their input and only their input”, and refer to CPR’s “grandiose senses (sic) of entitlement”. And on and on and on. But where do they show the slightest inclination to actually listen to those who they so easily demonize; to genuinely try to understand them, maybe even to learn from them? I know, I know, they don’t listen to you either.
In my opinion too many of the “liberals”, in the pursuit of their admittedly desirable goals, were so unwilling to open up to their perceived “conservative” enemies; so sure that they and they alone were right, that they turned a lot of people off. They had the reins, they flogged the horse for all they were worth, and it seemed that they were going to win the race. They had, they believed, the vital three votes at the Board, because Bonnie Neely had put together a triumvirate of her, Mark Lovelace, and Clif Clendenen, all of whom were solidly behind the Planning Department’s efforts. They went along with the Planning Department’s attempt to scuttle Sec. 1500. They considered us to be a threat because we were exposing the impropriety of their procedure (ignoring Sec. 1500) and they saw us consorting with the likes of CPR.
But many people were offended by the attitude of the “liberals” and they rebelled. Bonnie was defeated and so was Clif, leaving Mark pretty much twisting in the wind because the Board did indeed become primarily “conservative”. And surprise, surprise! The “conservatives”, now that they have the reins, are flogging the horse as hard as the “liberals” did. Sorry, but I have to laugh. Will the “liberals” learn a lesson from this and exercise a little humility? (Will the “conservatives” open their eyes and realize what terrible damage has resulted from our reckless attempt to separate freedom from responsibility?) We can hope, but don’t hold your breath.
Eric, the reason why you haven’t heard from me lately is because I probably have ten or fifteen years left and I’m trying to use my energy as efficiently as I can. That is no longer in trying to deal with Humboldt County government. The U.N. is saying that we’re within fifteen years of environmental “catastrophe”. NASA speaks of the imminent “collapse of industrial civilization”. I’ve tried my hand at thinking globally and acting locally; now I’m trying to both think and act globally, to which end I’ve written “Of Thee I Sing; The American Experiment and How It Can Still Succeed”, in which I try to set forth what some extraordinary teachers have indicated are the solutions to our increasingly desperate situation. It’s available through bookstores or on line; check it out if you’re curious.
At every level; personal, local, county, state, national, or global, I would suggest that we stop loving to hate each other, stop typecasting each other, and start listening to each other with the realization that each of us has reasons for feeling the way we do. Then we can finally begin to understand each other. Together we can define the common interest and devise ways to meet it. Which is, when you get right down to it, what we all really want, isn’t it?