HSRA and Post HSRA
High Sierra Rural Alliance recently published a press release regarding their appeal before the Sierra County Board of Supervisors of two Planning Commission decisions. The press release is found in the Prospect HERE; the reporting on the appeals is HERE and previous remarks are HERE.
The press release explains in careful and painstaking detail an argument nobody cares about.
The meat of argument is contained in this line: We are concerned project approval in Sierra County is done without the benefit of a consistent and legally required process. Most of the other 1200 words make a good argument and even provide attempts to bridge the comprehension gap with an analogy, carefully labeled "An Analogy."
The press release seemed to also contain a note of the continuing frustration that those speaking for HSRA demonstrate, as though they don’t understand why people can’t see that they are really helping.
But, they aren’t helping. Furthermore, they misunderstood what happened at the appeal.
Indeed, this is High Sierra’s response to the growing community sentiment against the group: The comments generated a storm of criticism based on rumors, innuendos (sic) and falsehoods designed to destroy our credibility.
The remark demonstrates what’s been said before: High Sierra Rural Alliance is impermeable to public input. They heard something, but they don’t understand what they heard, they thought it was rumors, innuendoes and falsehoods, neglecting that what people are pissed about is what they have concretely said and done, there’s no need for rumors or falsehoods.
In short, the press release affirmed in the minds of many that High Sierra doesn’t get it, and isn’t going to get it.
At heart is this: an organization which makes broad claims about supporting rural life shouldn’t act as though they know nothing about it. Time after time HSRA’s actions against local people have proved false the sentiment currently expressed on their website: The High Sierra Rural Alliance is a non-profit, grassroots organization committed to the preservation and enhancement of the rural Sierra experience. We believe rural values provide a balance between human, economic and environmental well-being.
That isn’t what High Sierra Rural does. What they do is found here on the website:
HSRA promotes protection of the rural environment at the local level by monitoring public hearing notices; examining staff recommendations and environmental documents; researching policy and factual evidence and advocating for wise decisions by providing written comments and testimony at public hearings.
That isn’t particularly useful much of the time, especially when there is so little land use going on right now. It boils down pretty much to this:
"We’re going to enhance your rural experience by dogging every land use action the county takes and binding up the system with yet more senseless and expensive hair splitting until no one can afford to live here except over-educated urban refugees." That doesn’t lead to supporting rural people, it is essentially the gentrification of hills as similar people have gentrified picturesque inner city landscapes.
As for rumors and innuendoes, here the group may be referring to a letter in the Mountain Messenger in which a lifelong local "outed" members of HSRA for shady practices on their own properties. The phrase may refer to allegations that HSRA is "essentially a way for someone from the city to make a living in Sierra County preying off neighbors." It may refer to allegations that today’s HSRA arose from funds which were essentially "extortion" when the formative group sued over a land split, but then allowed the split when a "settlement" was reached. The Prospect presents these "rumors and innuendoes" without remark.
Clearly, local residents are not being served by HSRA. We’ll make the case that not even county land use benefits from their actions, since their obsession with procedural minutiae actually distracts from the intended working of County ordinance and the functioning of the Planning Commission. It is not true that they oppose removing the land zoned TPZ from the core community zone, they simply want a review; however, their participation has a chilling effect on that action which supports and conforms to the law.
The worst thing is, not even the environment benefits from the majority of HSRA’s meddling; indeed, their efforts actually discourage landowner participation in some kinds of environmentally beneficial changes.
The problem is pretty clear: the scope of High Sierra is far too narrow; there is too little meaningful work for them to do; they have left the universe of helping and have simply become a non-governmental arm of the regulatory bodies which are crushing rural people. We don’t need that or want that. When we want our efforts to be confounded by nitpickers and our coffers drained by witless requirements we’ll turn to our paid bureaucrats, who are specialists in such work, we don’t need "community organizations" to help.
The Prospect has alienated some readers, we know, by continuing to insist that High Sierra really does have talented staff, and there really is an important role they could play in the community, and they really aren’t evil, simply misdirected.
We believe that still, but even we concede that the benefit of that has been overwhelmed by the negative impact High Sierra is having on the community, and at a time when we can least afford it. The long and short of it is this: there are many times when being right simply isn’t enough. One must also be pertinent.
This lack of pertinence has pitted the organization against the general community. The Prospect has already made its prediction about the outcome of High Sierra’s intransigence; so far the "event stream" seems to be following a predictable and probably unfortunate course. Community protest against the group mounts, with the discontentment leaving the fringe and entering the mainstream of the community, and more and more moderates join, if sometimes reluctantly, with the most strident opponents.
HSRA’s response is defensive, reflexive and simply reinforces the group’s marginalization and deepens the sense of its lack of pertinence to the larger community. Instead of taking actions to make its boundaries more permeable to public comment and need, the group has circled the wagons, entrenching itself in its position and making confrontation inevitable.
There is simply no way the group can win from this position. Even if it sued every resident of Sierra County and won, the group has lost. Without broad community support the group is a sham, it fails its stated purpose. Unless it quickly opens its operation to community input and broadens its scope to actually contributing to the welfare of the community and the environment, the group will face two futures, either walling itself against the cousins or dis-incorporating. The Prospect joins the most thoughtful members of the community who want to see neither of those options.
However, the sands are running out.
Recently a petition appeared asking the Boards of Supervisors of Sierra and Plumas Counties to take action against HSRA for the good of the community. These petitions have been seen in the Valley, and will likely soon appear in Portola and the West of Sierra County as well.
There was recently a first public meeting of a group which is forming at least in part as a response to HSRA and the generally negative effect they’ve had on land use. The Prospect has seen a list of participants, which features some of the community’s stalwarts.
The Prospect has learned that the group, which has a formation committee, a generalized goal, and has started the process to become a non-profit or not-for-profit corporation, intends to minimize the "HSRA Effect".
The group has not authorized a spokesperson yet, because it is still in its formative stage, but in a conversation with a member it emerges that, while HSRA is a prime motivator for the group to form, there is already talk of a wider purpose for the group, "post HSRA."
Milt Holstrom said in conversation with the Prospect that he hopes the group will take a broader view. He is seeking a consensus in the county, and doesn’t think the group would have to look far to find some important work to do. A group founded on vindictivness rarely prospers, but if wiser heads prevail, the new group might find many opportunities to actually help County residents.
Ironically, it might eventually be that this group, which has been motivated to form because of the non-responsiveness of HSRA, might become what HSRA said it was, an organization committed to the preservation and enhancement of the rural Sierra experience.
The group next meets January 10th at 1:00 at Los Dos Hermanos in Sierraville: the public is invited. This meeting should see the creation of a mission statement. That will give the new group some direction.