PC Appeal

There will be an appeal of a Planning Commission determination tomorrow, Tuesday December 1, 2009.

The County’s notice states:

A hearing will be held on the appeal filed by High Sierra Rural Alliance of the Planning Commission’s decision to approve the application by Larry Hudson (Applicant and Landowner) for a zone variance from the 100 ft. stream setback and yard setbacks to facilitate the construction of a single family residence on a parcel zoned Residential One Family (R-1) District. The project site, identified as APN 003-050-018, is located at 105 East River Street, Downieville.

The appellant isHigh Sierra Rural  Alliance.

The appeal is more than simply an appeal of the Planning Commission decision. If HSRA is successful, it will become increasingly difficult to build anything in the Canyon, particularly along the river.

In addition, it is expected that there will be a large public presence at the appeal; likely most will support the applicant and oppose the appellant, HSRA. An organization which espouses protection of the environment and most often moves against development is naturally going to accumulate detractors, many of them simply bone head capitalists.

But HSRA has more critics than that explanation can account for. Even moderate members of the community, those who support many of HSRA’s projects, have become vocal against the group.

Critics claim that HSRA is too impervious to public comment. The organization, which functions as a 501 non-profit has no integrated means of receiving public input. According to an HSRA spokesperson, the Board meetings are not open to the public, or even to HSRA members. The Board has no regular meeting time. There is no citizen’s advisory committee, as many non-profits have.

Lacking an institutionalized means for the public to provide input to the Board, one can hardly see how the organization can claim to represent the community, as they say they do on their website, and as their non-profit status assumes.

While it is a problem for the public to dialogue with the decision-makers at HSRA, the organization is wonderfully open when it comes to sharing information. One of the reasons High Sierra has maintained support is that they make information widely available, and often encourage public participation in individual projects. This appeal is no different, with good information available. Go Here

The appeal itself involves an applicant who is replacing an old, substandard dwelling with a new, modest dwelling. HSRA’s appeal initially mentioned the slope, and a Class 5 Categorical exemption from CEQA, which would allow the house to be built without any expensive assessments.

Publicly, High Sierra is pushing the issue of sewage, calling up images of our community’s children splashing among turds and various heavy metals and secreted estrogen from birth control pills. This emotionally charged issue seems publicly stronger than the grade issue.

Critics point out that the septic system is not part of the Planning Commission’s action. Further, the system is in place and has been certified by Sierra County. Finally, the river contains all manner of critters including Giardiasis; and would even if no humans lived here. Bears do poop in the woods, it turns out, and so does everything else. We teach our kids to keep their mouths shut when they swim.

It is simplistic to say that septic systems don’t impact the environment, but it is also short sighted to close the canyon to homes. The feds and state are already working to keep rural people out of rural places, they don’t need help from a local "pro-community" organization.

Currently, the smart money says the Board will likely uphold the Planning Commission’s decision. HSRA’s approach seems to be scattered, not well supported, and flies in the face of recommendations and reports from staff.

While HSRA foes have been unfocused and disorganized in the past, there is a rumble in the community which suggests this time it will be otherwise.

The smart money isn’t always right, but in this instance, a reversal of the Planning Commission seems unlikely. Typically High Sierra might offer to sue. An action like that in the face of public opposition would call into question the organization’s commitment to the community, and would likely get back to their grant funders. If opposition to HSRA is organized, they will appeal to High Sierra’s out of county support.

On the other hand, there are those who feel that building in the watershed is always bad for the environment.  They'll want to be there, too.

Anyone with an interest in this, which should be everyone, be sure to attend the appeal in Downieville, on Tuesday. Big issues are at stake for all of us.

Website Builder