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Quality of life debate continues

by Don Miner

For nearly two decades now, residents of Douglas County have expressed concern and interest in solving real problems affecting their quality of life in the Carson Valley. During this time, some degree of anxiety has been expressed, reference the explosive residential growth of the ’80s and ’90s, traffic congestion, school overcrowding, water rights, building in floodways, water and sewer services, open space preservation, etc. Most have wanted a futuristic yet realistic master plan, a document that would be kept current and focused on our priorities, needs and expectations.

The master plan developed since1980, updated and adopted in 1996, is our living document. It seeks to quantify county policy on many of these issues, and does so. Today, we find most components of the 1996 plan being implemented. Initiating implementation brings forward solutions designed to meet older and new demands. This is being accomplished with the exceptional help of local citizens volunteering their time and talent in the form of public and private citizen advisory committees. They work hard to acquire realistic views of where we are today and where we, as a county, should be in future years. More specifically, their goal is to help collect, define and prepare for debate, current public opinion in many different areas. They exist not to get beat up on issues during the exploratory process, but to gather vital information from current thinking by those likely to be affected by change in public policy.

One such community-minded coalition and citizen advisory group has been charged with the task of developing public input and a plan regarding preservation and maintenance of more than 65,000 acres of Carson Valley “open space.” Moreover, they seek to clarify its definition, land or conservation easement acquisition costs and potential funding sources. The fear of many is future development on agriculture lands, which may impact scenic beauty, obliterate view corridors, impose feelings of congestion and intrusion followed by actual crowding, congestion and depletion of our natural resources.

Some suggest this solicitation, refinement and policy adoption should not be the problem solved by local government. But, if not “we” in government, then who? Are “we” to stand by and watch this open space shrink? Sooner or later, “we” will no doubt be called upon for leadership and policy setting. And this will happen just as soon as one’s ox gets gored, when questions of rezoning and land use gets re-scrutinized or when an “unpopular” allowed project moves forward.

If there can be a plan developed for a more comprehensive and effective solution to perils of residential or other growth on ag land or in the floodway, when should such a plan begin? After all, each of us brings testimony of land use failures and quality of life abuses from where we came, wishing for no repeat in the Carson Valley.

Central to this open space issue is our concern for the preservation and protection of constitutional guarantees afforded landowners. This is why we insist on advisory committees and staff conducting public outreach, numerous neighborhood and community meetings. From these sessions, public concerns are quantified, researched and converted to an updated public policy. These meetings are well attended by residents, county commissioners, planning commission members, county community development employees, landowners and developers. This process has proven vital in culling out real issues from rumor, speculation and special interests during the definition, review and refinement stages.

Presently, it appears an open space tax question is destined for a vote of the people. And, if the question of a new tax for open space becomes a ballot measure, should we not have a complete and detailed plan first? Would it not be appropriate to first have an agreed-upon definition of what open space is? Where does it lie, who owns it, how might it be protected and how much new tax money will be required from the taxpayers for acquisition, protection, preservation and maintenance for the next 10, 20 and 50 years?

Or, is there a better way than just levying another tax? To accomplish our high priority objective, is another tax really necessary? Is it possible for us to accomplish what appears to be a desired and needed preservation of open space while protecting and honoring private property rights and not create new taxes? Shouldn’t we be pursuing answers to these question before any ballot measure to raise taxes goes forward?

Answers, I believe, will come from continued public dialogue, meetings with cooperative landowners and residents who are not intimidated by or fearful of change for the betterment of our community.

It seems to me so fundamental that a ballot question first consider, “Do the residents of Douglas County wish local government to facilitate the preservation, protection and maintenance of open space and private property rights without a new “open space” tax? Following what I would expect to be a resounding “yes,” and with the cooperation of many, preservation of open space and private property rights can become reality with just the stroke of a pen.

Sound worth pursuing? Call or write your local government and tell them so! Attend the public meetings; volunteer your time and talent. The future of open space, as we now know and enjoy it, truly depends on you! Tell us just what your highest priorities are. You’ll be amazed at what you have started. The call to action line begins at your end of (775) 782-9821

– Don Miner is a Douglas County commissioner.