A day of strange heroes and soft villains
The Sierra County Board of Supervisors met in continued regular session in Loyalton. All supervisors were present and ready to rumble. As an editorial note, the SC Board of Supervisors has done a lot of work this winter, and as a result has created some first rate news at a time when we need it most, the period of news doldrums known as “before the Cook Off”. We are deeply appreciative and we know our readers are, too. This meeting was particularly rich in human drama, and the struggle of right against another right.
The meeting got off to a bang when Tim Holabird, local representative of Congressman Tom McClintock, stood and read a letter from Tom saying that he supported the idea that land purchased with public dollars should have public access. The letter said the Congressman would facilitate a meeting with The Nature Conservancy, current Laird of Independence Lake.
The Board decided to jettison the entire “Road Closure” issue when they were contacted by citizens who made sense. The Board decided to put up signs warning the witless that they could get stuck if the road is buggered with snow.
The Board pulled two items from the consent agenda: one which would allow HHS to hire a mental health wallah, and a second approving a self assessment of child welfare services.
Frequent readers will recall that there has been a months long effort on the part of the Board of Supervisors to deal with oversight of CWS. The law is clear: the Board of Supervisors must oversee the department, and there is no legal way for them to do it.
At first glance, this self assessment of the agency might seem to be a useful tool for the Board to do that, particularly since they were being asked to approve it.
But, alas, that is not the case.
The self-assessment is part of an over-all system improvement plan at the state, which is under pressure because of lawsuits by “children’s groups” and because the feds were going to crack down on the states to make sure they used their federal dollars as their master intends. The plan calls for “peer review”, self assessment, and then an improvement plan. Learn about this amazing, myopic and self-referential effort here
The self assessment works to help the local agency meet the FEDERAL goals for the children in our community. It is what the state gets paid to do, and in turn the state pays the counties. The entire effort is what you get when you take a handful of good ideas and turn them over to some well intentioned people to whom you pay millions and millions of tax dollars. That is almost the only way to arrive at values like those described.
In any case, the self-assessment and peer review is, as County Council James Curtis noted, a kid’s report card filled in by himself and his friends.
None of which is Dr. Carol Robert’s fault. The process is one every county will go through. The state mandates it; the feds mandate it, and none of them have to ask us. The process doesn’t address things people in the community might be worried about, and actually works at cross-purposes much of the time, sending a little bunch of kids to adoption after six months instead of investing in the family. Federal law mandates what happens to the family, unless the county and state want to pay for it themselves, and they don’t. The template for the self assessment is HERE
The benchmarks used in the self assessment are those which make sense, things like a kid shouldn’t be the subject of referral after referral (presuming continued neglect or abuse). A kid shouldn’t stay forever in foster care (unless she wants to return home someday). All the well meaning (and, coincidentally money saving) measures.
Readers who want to know more about the good intentions and laudable goals behind CWS redesign, should read this
The Board struggled with the understanding that, not only would this self-assessment not help them understand and oversee CWS, they really couldn’t see most of it at all. Doctor Roberts calmly explained how the self-assessment, and the items on the closed session regarding parent lawsuits against the county, have nothing to do with each other. This editor will note that the process designed by the state on behalf of the feds actually encourages the agency to take and keep the kid. Farm them out to a relative guardian or to an adoptive home as soon as possible, and let the kids’ parents twist.
The supervisors wanted to know all they could about the report they were being asked to approve.
Lee Adams asked, are there any areas where we are behind?
Dr. Roberts attempted to explain the nature of the system and the statistics they use to judge the county, but to be honest, until someone has spent some time understanding the statistics and what they mean, it simply isn’t possible to synopsize for them.
Dr. Roberts also explained the problem of small sampling error, where the very small child population of the county can result in one family doubling our rates on some issues.
Dr. Roberts did not say, but the supervisors gradually came to understand, that the entire thing has no meaningful basis in the real world, and only makes sense when understood in its own terms, with its own definitions, and the concern of the feds over all.
However, some counties do make their self assessment and improvement plans public. See one here.
Scott Schlefstein asked the pertinent question: “Are we being asked to approve the report?”
Dr. Roberts said that the Board was approving the Director to send in the report.
Was that the same as approving it?
Mr. Curtis said that, as he read the law, the Board was asked to approve the report.
Chair Adams: Is this a crisis?
Dr. Roberts explained that because they had key staff shortages, the report is over-due. It needed to be Fedexed so it would absolutely, positively get there over night.
Chair Adams: what if it’s late?
Dr. Roberts wasn’t sure, but she thought there would be problems with the state. She explained that key fields have to be filled out.
Supervisor Goicoechea had allowed as he was a lay person, and so this didn’t make too much sense, but he said there is a sense that there is something wrong in CWS and the Board is responsible to fix it. Now they were asked to approve something they couldn’t review.
Dr. Roberts insisted the report was beyond policy and budget, meaning essentially it was beyond the Board of Supervisors to do anything about.
Mr. Curtis, after reviewing the law: the Board didn’t have to actually approve the report.
Supervisor Huebner moved to approve the report: Supervisor Schlefstein seconded, but the rest of the Board balked at approving something they couldn’t review.
Supervisor Nunes stated that he didn’t like to see state agencies go beyond the authority of the law.
Eventually, Mr. Curtis recommended a change in the language of the motion, and the Board approved the Director to send the report, but did not approve it.
The legal issues are convoluted, but Mr. Curtis provided a satisfactory resolution, though one that does not disguise the fact that the Board did not have full confidence in the Director.
The Board heard a presentation from Mike Filippini from First 5. It was terrible news for the families in the county and the many preschool and day care opportunities First 5 supports. Mr. Filippini asked the Board to use its connections with multi-county groups such as RCRC to seek restoration of First 5 funding. Mr. Filippini couldn’t avoid the connection between families with young children who need to work and the dwindling resources for such families in the county.
Bob Marshall from Plumas Sierra Rural Electrification showed the Board some fiber optic cable, and talked about how better internet could be provided through a system of fiber, T2 lines, microwave and white space, which is the old television.
The board recognized Gary Shelton for his work as a City Councilperson and as the Chair of the Sierra County Transportation Commission.
1:30 Timed Item: Independence Lake
Chair Lee Adams dropped the hammer on the Independence Lake issue. He began by saying that in the 1970s Independence Lake was in the headlines, Jerry Brown was governor and Tim Beals was Director of Public Works.
Chair Adams insisted that the meeting was to determine if the county road was being encroached on. It was a narrow goal, made more narrow by Tim Beal’s use of “maintained county road” as the measure of the question.
Director of Such Things Tim Beals did an overview; here’s ours. For many, many years the owners of the land around Independence Lake allowed people to use the lake seasonally to fish. There was a little camp ground and boat launch, and for wholesome family fun you can’t be Independence Lake.
Fast forward a hundred years to the acquisition of the property by The Nature Conservancy. Claiming aquatic invasive species, TNC essentially blocked access to the lake for everyone who couldn’t carry a boat 200 yards. They also prohibited motorboats.
TNC then proceeded to advertise the lake for paddle toys up and down California, still keeping motorboats out.
TNC trotted the AIS story all around, continuing to use it as a justification for keeping motor boats out while at the same time encouraging others to come up and see the pristine lake.
Mr. Beals took a great deal of time and presented maps showing how things had changed and why he couldn’t be more certain what was county maintained road. He came to the conclusion a gate was in the wrong place by a hundred feet. Not much to work with, and not very satisfying.
Next up: The Nature Conservancy. They largely ignored Lee Adam’s instruction to just talk about the road, and headed off into AIS and how they intended to do public outreach and generally assured the room that TNC would be as open as understanding as they have refused to be right along. The presentation was intended to cause people to forget how one-way TNC has been all along. They talked about everything but the road, and then assured everyone the road was always private and said something like “we encourage you to encourage us to continue…”
The only warning that something might be wrong is when TNC attorney Jim Porter said that TNC asked they either accept Tim’s finding or do nothing.
Then the little ant that is about to move the rubber tree plant took the stand: the Friends of Independence Lake.
The Friends proceeded to show that Tim Beals had not used the correct landmarks, and further, there is a difference between public road and county road. Their attorney, Greg Gatto, spent most of their time talking about the legal implications of the road.
Kenny Osburn, a key player in Friends of Independence Lake stood and started talking about the AIS threat, and Lee Adams reminded him they were only talking about the road. Using maps, Kenny showed how the roads that exist are essentially for public access.
People stood and gave testimony. Pat Whitley, long time SC politico and former formidable supervisor said the Board needed to know about more than county roads, there is an issue of access.
Jim Beard, now Loyalton City Councilman, spoke of the importance of access.
Ken Osburn, Kenny’s Uncle, talked about 70 years of fishing the lake.
Again TNC insisted they need to do outreach, in violation of Chair Adam’s “just the road” caution to Kenny Osburn.
Bill Bate reminded the Board that two sections of the General Plan address the importance of public access to such places as Independence Lake.
Others spoke, people from Truckee and elsewhere, pointing out that TNC used public money to purchase the land, but is keeping the public that used it for generations out in favor of paddlers.
Supervisor Schlefstein determined that the Board should find the roads public, and that public access is a right.
Mr. Curtis brought up the sticky points: Does the Board intend to condemn the roads if they aren’t County roads?
The discussion waffled for a little while around what constituted “reasonable control” and “reasonable access.” It quickly became just a word game.
Chair Adams brought up some alternatives to the boat access problems, including the one many people have suggested for months now: nobody brings a boat in but everyone can rent what they need, including motorboats.
Tim Beals suggested diplomacy. Mr. Beals has played Kissenger though out this episode, trying to have everyone be reasonable. “I can’t believe we can’t keep this out of court,” he said. He pointed out that Tom McClintock was going to facilitate a meeting, maybe that would help, he said, completely ignoring that only the road is the issue.
Mr. Schlefstein made a motion to adopt a resolution requiring TNC to provide access to IL. It was chancy, and no one seconded it.
Bill Nunes made a resolution which seemed less grabby: it stated that since public funds were used public access needs to be ensured, including motorboats.
There was a flurry of seconds and amendments.
Greg Gatto brought the subject around to what Mr. Adams had insisted all that long time ago, the road. He stated that the road was public and once that was established access could be arrived at.
The resolution ended up something like this in the record: Supervisor Nunes made a motion of intent to adopt a resolution supporting the principle that where public funds were used to acquire the lands surrounding Independence Lake, access to the public must be made available.
There was a flurry of “ayes”.
Bill Nunes made himself clear: I’m not going to stop until motorboats can be used on the lake again.
Jim Porter: We have no problem with the resolution; we hear you about access.
Chair Adams thanked everyone and observed that democracy works best when the room is full.
Bill Bate stood to say that the issue was not resolved, since there was access last year for some people, but not traditional users of the lake.
Lee Adams: We’ve been clear that the public access of last year is not enough.
Kenny Osburn: It almost seems like this is the first thing of this sort TNC has done.
SCP Analysis and opinion.
Here’s our analysis:
1. The meeting didn’t stay on the road issue because that is only part of the issue.
2. TNC is engaging in cultural imperialism by encouraging “pristine” paddlers over traditional motorboats.
3. The road is essentially public, though not necessarily county. True, the gate exists, but at this point, given the environment of the lake, that alone doesn’t preclude a public expectation of use.
4. TNC is not concerned about AIS, if it were, it would have simply inspected the boats of traditional users, users who most often used local lakes. Instead, TNC encouraged boaters from all over California, increasing the likelihood someone would bring a paddle toy that had been in infected waters. TNC made a great issue of “rescuing” the land around IL from “private” owners, and then began to insist on their “private property rights.”
5. TNC has no business managing the fish in the lake. Sure, they can inventory, they can cooperate, but the fact is that the water in the lake is not theirs; the land under the lake is not theirs, and the fish certainly are not their fish. They can manage the land, but the fish are not their concern.
Finally, Jim Porter wrapped his presentation with a cute story about how his high school aged daughter thinks he’s an attorney for the fish.
He isn’t. His client is a multinational non-profit corporation worth $6 billion dollars. The fish are simply pawns, idealized forms to be manipulated by TNC for their own ends.
Everyone agrees the lake needs to be protected from AIS. Most people understand that might well mean no boats go to IL, everything is rented. But, everyone will be effected equally, with no special treatment for those who engage in TNC’s cultural imperialism.
In truth, the resolution sought by the Board doesn’t mean much. Jim Curtis is right, it’s not a simple thing to just take roads; it might be that Friends of Independence Lake will still have to go to court with TNC. The Board did what it could, and maybe it was enough. Maybe TNC really will make a good faith effort to restore the access they’ve denied to traditional users.
Let’s see what McClintock can do in a few weeks.