Virgnia Starrett: The great master plan question: Why is this here?
December 7, 2017
Ever heard the phrase, "Passing the buck?" Well, at the Board of Commissioners meeting Monday I got a full dose of just how that works, and I'm depressed. In Douglas County, we have a master plan. And, in case you don't know much about it, if the master plan doesn't say a particular action can and should be taken, then heaven help the entity seeking that action. Everything from agriculture to conservation to transportation to housing is in the master plan.
Long ago, in 1996, the then-Board of Commissioners launched the original plan, and that plan has been "updated" on a regular basis ever since. But this time, at the 20-year anniversary, the review takes on special weight. Everything I heard assured me that now was the time for really considering how the master plan might be lacking or how the policies it put in place might not be achieving their intended goals. Even the goals themselves could be re-examined.
Wow. Since the county is, in the view of many close observers including me, trending on the "dysfunctional" side (mismanagement ignored, incompetence rewarded, finances muddled, even illegalities condoned or hidden) maybe a good, hard look at its core, as represented by the master plan, could set off a turn-around.
I did experience glimmers of hope. Right off, the entire commission became a chorus of agreement when in public comment I asserted the burden put on the public (and the commissioners) in the proposed agenda for this Dec. 4 master plan meeting was preposterous.
But that's not all that buoyed me up. When I donned my professor of English hat and pointed out that the document was riddled with errors, there were nods of agreement. Yes! I wasn't going to have to be ashamed that the county attached its name to such a "mess" of a document. The errors would be fixed.
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The corker in lifting me to the mountaintop of optimism, however, was Commission Chair Penzel's observation, right off the bat, once he'd thrown down the starting flag for the meeting declaring that first up would be the housing element, that he wasn't sure what role government should play in addressing the housing issues contained in the master plan.
Hallelujah, I thought. This is good. This means we're talking depth and we're talking close to the bone. No presenter or fellow commissioner actually engaged in responding to the chair's provocative observation, but a period of questions and answers, comments and counters, thrusts and parries followed. Why is this here? Does having this much specificity make sense? Couldn't the document be more concise, and couldn't the errors in grammar and structure be fixed? All of it just the kind of give and take that usually results in sound results.
In my dreams only, in this instance.
Using my three examples of questions, and italicizing the (ridiculous) rationales offered to satisfy the questions, here's how it all started circling the drain:
1. Why is this here? Because it was in the 2011 draft (or in another of the previous drafts). So, I'm thinking with a frown, once a policy or thought or guideline has been memorialized in the master plan, it is never to be reconsidered and/or deleted.
2. Does having this much specificity make sense? That's how it was set up. So, I'm thinking, my nerves now on edge, the intimidating tone of having, for example, a housing action item read, "County shall change code to facilitate 40-80 more multi-family units in Indian Hills" (which sounds like a mandate, but in reality — I'm assured with emphasis — is merely a "suggested vision") has to continue into perpetuity.
3. Couldn't the document be far more concise, and couldn't the errors in grammar and structure be fixed? Again: That's how it was set up. So, I conclude ready to explode, the format of the master plan, a disgrace from a proper English standards standpoint, is sacrosanct.
This whole "master plan revisit" exercise is a farce, I conclude, and then actually say out loud when the chairman opens up public comment. You can add more to it, but you can't rethink it. That is out of bounds.
In minutes, a break for lunch is called, and I meander up to where Commissioners Thaler and McDermid still remain in their chairs.
"I'm not advocating for throwing the entire thing out," I explain. "I just wish more had been done to take out policies that no longer apply or that are ineffective."
"That's the job of the planning commission," responds Thaler. He goes on to elaborate on how the policies set forth in the master plan come from the planning commission, and obviously they didn't see any reason for any deletions. I'm now in shock. A non-elected board is for all intents and purposes in control of the all-important, all-encompassing master plan. Outrageous.
"But what about the hundreds of errors in structure and grammar?" I persist, Don Quixote coming to mind.
"You'd need to take that up with Brian Krolicki," grumbles McDermid, obviously irritated with me. "He took eight years putting it together back then."
I didn't return after lunch.
Virginia Starrett is a Foothill resident