Response: HSRA Editorial

The Prospect received input on the Wednesday Editorial Weekly about High Sierra Rural Alliance. The best criticism was from a good friend of the Prospect and Sierra County, who thought the editor was far too easy on HSRA. We’d like to respond to the letter, and present it to our readers in its most useful form.

1. The letter said, "Your sympathies are showing like a Debutante's slip

Your editorial would serve as apologist for these --------."

We disagree that the editorial was apologetic, but the quoted line demonstrates some of the colorful language used in the LTE. We could print the letter with those parts removed, but that would leave a whole lot of gaps. #$&^!

The letter also referred to actions taken by some HSRA current and past staff, board members and prominent supporters which were in violation of county codes. The Prospect was already aware of those allegations, but has not yet had the need to verify them. As they are unverified, we won’t publish them even in a letter to the editor.

The letter noted that while this is Sierra County, we are hundreds of miles north of the high Sierras, and are almost in the Cascade Range. Good point.

2. The letter brought up the group’s 501 (c) (3) status, and noted they were failing the strict intention of that provision. The Editorial did not make specific reference to the group’s tax status, but we indicated that they had a responsibility as a community organization, which they were failing.

3. The letter stated: "You just don't grasp that they are out to impose a cost not as remedy but as impediment. You may not feel that is true; we will have an enduring disagreement of opinion. That crew is simply full of ----."

The Prospect feels there is no evidence that HSRA intends to be an impediment to appropriate development. It seems they assume the costs involved are worth the protection to the environment.

However, while that might not be their intention, it very clearly is the result. One of the main objections the Prospect editorial staff have against HSRA is that their indiscriminant actions are implicitly going to drive the price of living in Sierra County up to the point that a poor person couldn’t live here. That elitist feature of HSRA is the most damaging to the county, and to the group. You can’t claim to serve rural people if at the same time you make it impossible for them to live in a rural area. If HSRA continues as it has, only ex-urban wealthy will be able to afford to live here. That extinguishes the genuine, indigenous culture we now have.

The Editorial was very clear that HSRA has become problematic.

4. The LTE went on to say:

"What is at issue is not the community having a discussion of its well being balancing the environment against the economy. That is sophistry and not true. It is the perversion of the rules and the outright falsehoods, and routine hubris and bullying threats and the irrational demands on everyone else's time with no regard for the right of quiet enjoyment of a property for the landowner that is at issue."

We disagree that the discussion is not about where we as a community will place the balance of people and environment. That is exactly what the hearings were.

Instead of the emotional joy of hatred and the calming of our fears by attaching them to a straw monster we can then destroy, we should be critical but without bias. Then we might best recognize what the problem really is. We may have to face the complexity of the situation and recognize that our problems begin out of county. There isn’t any emotional joy there, only intellectual work. Still, it’s more useful than killing straw monsters.

Let’s be clear, HSRA fills a niche. The funding and support for environmental groups is slacking, just as the entire economy is diminished, but the niche remains. The headwaters of the Yuba and Feather rivers are of high interest, and if we drove every member of HSRA out of the county tomorrow, by Tuesday someone else would move in to fill that niche. Most likely it would be a digit of a larger organization, something a lot harder to deal with than a local group made up of cousins.

Which brings up the second issue: HSRA is composed of cousins, of people we all know and are neighbors to, and people we like and often admire in other circumstances. They are clearly a part of the community, and distancing them is just an emotional tactic, one that robs their argument of its benefit to us, and makes us blind to the larger picture.

5. The writer of the LTE suggested: "Frankly a rail and tar and feathers (a terrible punishment) was the treatment for this lot in times past." Talk like that demonizes some of us and distracts the rest us, like it distracted the writer, from the true discussion. We realize the writer did not suggest covering live persons in scalding tar (a practice that was often slowly fatal) but even without the physical threat, the emotion of the threat diminishes all of us. That’s not the direction we as a community need to go.

As people with experience in non-profits and non-profit funding, we believe it would be relatively simple to starve HSRA out of existence.

But, the problem would not go away with the group, it would simply shift to other venues. Our water quality is something that will plague our children and grandchildren, not because it is filthy, but because it is clean.

This division in our numbers is an opportunity for the community to meet and decide how we’ll deal with the looming challenges of the near future. Our surface water rights will be further diminished under the Governator’s plan for our water, and the Fed’s likely eventual passage of S787, and we are completely losing our ability to determine for ourselves how clean the water has to be, or anything else about it.

Likewise, our ability to determine our own ground water quality is doomed, the writing is on the wall even though rural counties did temporarily turn back AB 885.

Land use is less of an issue now, when there is no building, but down the road a decade or two things might change, and the land of the eastern Sierras might again be coveted for development. Again the warning of the "no growther" will ring true: if you love Sierra County, don’t change it.

6. "People are REALLY PISSED OFF"

It is true that the directors of HSRA have been indiscriminate and probably hypocritical in their actions against landowners, and it certainly is true there is a growing community response to them. That’s because right now High Sierra is the face of the problem. Still, we should be worrying on the street and in our homes about where we as a community stand, instead of leaving it to the Board and High Sierra to struggle out. Blaming High Sierra makes it seem as though the problem will go away if they do. Again, it won’t.

The appeals highlighted a community problem. Either we’ll work as a community to draw the line, and to do what our tiny little bug’s butt of a county can do against the massive power of the state and the Feds, or we’ll do nothing but write bitching, cursing letters to the editor. The second is good for our business; the first is good for the community.

We disbelieve that relegating our community decision making power to a regional water organization beholden to the state is going to save our water rights, or prevent further expensive intrusion into our county land use regulations. We need to back our County planning and building staff and make sure they have the tools and expertise they need to keep what decision making we can in county.

Finally, the editorial made very clear where the Prospect stands on over-regulation. Given the choice between polluted water and oppressive regulation, we’ll take piddle in the river.

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