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EAST OF THE LINE: NEW PLANNING GROUP CHAIRMEN HAVE THEIR WORK CUT OUT




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By Billie Jo Jannen

Planning groups countywide have seated their newly elected members since the first of the year and Campo's changing of the guard does nothing to dispel its image as among the most contentious in the rural East County (along with the now-legendary Ramona, Potrero and Alpine groups).

The short description of the meeting might well be summed up as "Lions 0, Christians 2, after a lively clash," and bodes another exhausting year for planning group watchers in Campo.

In the November election, Campo voters selected four developer-funded candidates, Kristi Kor, Brandon Will, Mitch Sanchez and Paige McAllister, and one moderate candidate, Tammy Inman. They were seated Monday, Jan. 26, joining Bev Esry, Pat Noblitt, Bill Slaff and Rick Northcote, who all have two more years on the board.

Esry chaired the meeting and by a tight 5 (Slaff, Esry, Sanchez, Noblitt, Inman) to 4 (Kor, Will, Northcote, McAllister), Sanchez was chosen over Kor to take the gavel for future 2009 meetings.

A later agenda item stated that Pat Noblitt had tendered her resignation for health reasons. A motion was requested to accept it and replace her with the next highest vote-getter, as described in the group's standing rules and the county's I-1 policy regarding citizen planning and sponsor groups.

The next highest vote-getter, in this case, was longtime planning group member and former chairman Larry Johnson - a land use moderate known for his balanced approach to development and conservation.

Apparently, moderate didn't sit well with the new members. Rick Northcote, a developer-funded candidate in the 2006 race, immediately made a motion to accept the resignation but not fill the position until after the standing rules could be changed.

Pat Noblitt promptly rescinded her resignation. The developer-funded candidates, with the exception of Mitch Sanchez, then voted as a block to accept Northcote's motion. With only four votes of nine, however, the motion failed.

In the days following the meeting, pro-development folks piled abuse on Esry in the form of angry e-mails. Their criticisms varied: it was somehow unethical for Esry to allow Noblitt to withdraw her resignation; she was somehow in collusion with Johnson and Noblitt; that she was this nasty name or that nasty name.

Until, that is, the county opinion of the evening's events was handed down. After all that laissez faire politicking, it turns out that the "lions" were 100 percent in the wrong on both issues.

According to Regulatory Planning Chief Brian Baca of Department of Planning and Land Use, it isn't legal to change the standing rules retroactively to cover an earlier action: "The action before the CPG was to recognize a resignation and recommend to the BOS a replacement in accordance with the Standing Rules currently in effect," Baca wrote in an e-mail to Esry. "A future modification of the Standing Rules would have no effect on this recommendation."

In other words, had the young lions' motion passed, the vote would have ended up being disqualified.

Of Pat Noblitt's rescinding her resignation in the fly, Baca said that, under the I-1 policy, "an elected member's responsibilities are not officially transferred to a new person until the Board of Supervisors confirms the seating of a new member. Until that time, the elected member can rescind a resignation and retain the seat."

This meeting was a snapshot of what many planning and sponsor groups look like these days, especially when developer dollars start making their way into local communities. The chairman of a community planning group becomes a walking target for public discontent and even moderate growth members like Johnson are objects of suspicion.

Both Esry and Johnson, have faced attacks at meetings and rumor mongering in the community. Ditto for other chairmen in various developer impacted communities.

In addition to the regular responsibilities of a planning group chairman "meeting conduct, agenda preparation, attendance of various meetings downtown, record-keeping and answering an endless stream of queries from the community " chairmen of developer impacted towns must also deal with rowdy meetings, gut-wrenching hate mail from one side or the other, and a constant stream of demands and accusations of bias and collusion.

The seemingly picky little rules and laws that govern public meetings in general and planning groups in particular become a lifeline and the county attorney becomes your best e-mail buddy.

It's the hardest job you'll never be thanked for, and is done while being hated by fully half the community much of the time.

Sanchez will definitely have his work cut out if he plans to run a fair and productive planning group. But he will find his feet, I think. Sooner or later, every chairman does.
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Billie Jo Jannen is a property owner and resident of Campo for 21 years and has written and edited rural news for 22 years. Her children and grandchildren also live in Campo. Reach her via email at jannen@inbox.com.