Streamlining Public Input
George Caloyannidis | Mar 7, 2018
NVR 3/15/18: Napa County Planning Commission rejects limiting public speakers to 2 minutes
[Letter to Supervisors regarding Dec 20th 2017 Planning Commission referral of 2018 PC Bylaws governing applicant and protestant speaking times at public hearings (Agenda item 8B here and Register articles here and here)]
I am dismayed at the proposed "streamlining" process the Planning Commission has put in front of you for your approval.
The basic question which needs to be answered before any changes to the process are made is what is the purpose of the process in the first place. it seems to me that the primary purpose of the process is to seek ways to make the outcome of decisions better. No one has yet to make the case that a faster process is one which delivers a better outcome.
Limiting the time applicants and their consultants have to present a complex application to 15 minutes is not serious when one considers that entire EIRs involving traffic, safety, impacts on resources etc. need to be presented. One can make the argument that all that information - often consisting of over 1,000 pages - are on file for any citizen to inform themselves but you must concede this to be unrealistic. At least it is available to the Commissioners whose jobs it is to do just that. But the public doesn't stand a realistic chance under the current system.
I am a fairly well educated person. Whenever I designed a plan after hours of considering every angle I can think of, I used to think that there was nothing to be added. Until that is, I presented it to public scrutiny. I learned that there is nothing more valuable than the wisdom of the crowd.
The entire premise of the "streamlining" proposal before you is that citizen input is of no value and needs to be curtailed. As a matter of fact one cannot avoid feeling the Commissioners' utter disdain for it and that were it not for the law, they would prefer to eliminate it altogether. Having sat through appeals before you, I must say that you yourselves are not immune from this charge.
I venture to say that except for applicants whose projects are approved, the public who cares to participate with a lot of sacrifice in the process is not satisfied with the results most of the time feeling that it was not "heard". This means that there are fundamental improvement which need to be instituted beginning with ways to encourage wider public participation! However, when the public perceives that its input is ineffective as it has been, you are disinviting it rather than inviting it.
Complex staff reports ought to be available to the public for at least 10 working days prior to a hearing if the P.C. were really interested in valuable public input. Applicants make a presentation, the Commission asks questions, the applicant replies. The public speaks, the applicant addresses its points but the public has no way of rebutting the applicant's explanations. Nor does the public have the opportunity to address points the Commissioners make among themselves. The process itself is wanting in basic structure not just in terms of expediency.
If you really aspire to a system which delivers a better product, you need to assemble a study group which involves business interests as well as the public. Expediting, "streamlining" the process should be way down the line of considerations.
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