Are We Powerless?

Are We Totally Without Power 121210

At the last Sierra County Board of Supervisors meeting much anger and frustration was expressed regarding the new California Building Codes, including the “residential sprinkler” mandate and the new green building requirements, which are unclear enough to provide pocket enviros with something to sue over for years.  It’s pretty clear there is nothing we can do about those codes.  If the county doesn’t enact the codes, the state might intercede, but more likely no one would build here anyway because of the chance someone would sue, or the probability that the builder and owner couldn’t get insurance for the construction or the house.  If anyone, ever, burned to death in a house in the county again the county would be liable.  We’re powerless, there’s nothing we can do.

There seems to be nothing the county can do about the water grab that’s going on in Northern California.  The county is swimming in water, but increasingly local diversions are coming under scrutiny, both for the quality, and increasingly for the amount of water diverted.  There is a standing prediction here at the Prospect that the Little Truckee water being diverted into the Sierra Valley will be litigated out of existence, with TNC or a local conservation corporation driving the nail by purchasing the water back for the trout and downstream users including municipalities and Indian tribes.  There is pretty much nothing we can do.

There doesn’t seem to be too much the county can do about The Nature Conservancy re-culturing Independence Lake.  People in the county, yes are still working to change policy at TNC, but the county has been very slow and very cautious about messing with the mega-savior.  TNC can afford lots of lawyers, starting with prestigious Truckee lawyers and bringing in high dollar help from anywhere if need be.  It might not be possible to prevent the bright plastic paddle boater from displacing the family camped at the shore and the putter of the motor boat pulling a spoon.  It might be possible to insist citizens can drive to the lake in the old places, but if the current restrictions remain in place the practices the lake has known for the last century will culturally change.

The county is largely helpless to encourage a livelihood in the county.  On the one hand, it isn’t really government’s task to encourage business, but local government seems powerless even to facilitate a salary generating industry in the county.   That might change, it might be possible for the county to administer an effort to use grants to support infrastructure for biomass.  The county has no administrative authority to encourage biomass, but it does have an interest in community safety, and the inclusion of the County Wide Fire Plan update into the General Plan will make it easier for the FSWC and even the U.S. Forest Service to create a source, and encourage a market, for biomass.  Indirectly, in cooperation with many players, the county is working to create a demand for what we have the most of in the county.  Go here for the current fire plan .

It might not be possible to get community input into County Health and Human Services.  It might, or might not, be possible for the Board of Supervisors to induce a community standard of intervention into the agency.  In this small community, people know about each other, and the stories continue to grow of an agency immune from input and a system impervious to the will of the community.  Again, threat of lawsuit is a possible, though perhaps not likely impediment to modest program change.  At some point the risk of not intervening catches up with the risk of intervening.  There is a growing movement to turn government back from the family, reversing a trend that began over 40 years ago and grew until it is arguably out of control; can Sierra County loosen that ratcheting effect?  

Are we powerless in all these things?  Are we too few and too given to squabbling to be able to impact these impositions?  Do we elect representatives who are simply figureheads, lackeys for the state, like the old style Chinese Communist Party Chief, there to deliver the law from above, but powerless to act on behalf of the people?

In the age of 911 even public protest has become dangerous.  Still, as we look at the laundry list of impositions, we have to ask, is there no way we can impact those with power over us?

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