An Open Letter to All Members of the San Lorenzo Valley Community
Dear SLV Community Members,
There are severe problems with the recent proposal for a “San Lorenzo Valley Community Council” that may well undermine the very community involvement it wants to provide. As a group of concerned San Lorenzo Valley residents, we are urging our neighbors to not support the proposal as presented in the Press Banner and the SLV Post, discussed on social media, and detailed in a letter to the SLV County Supervisor from the proponent’s Steering Committee.
The Council would require a costly extra layer of government that would become politically charged if implemented as described. Proponents fail to recognize the likelihood that the Council would place a filter between SLV individuals or organizations and the government officials and agencies they want to influence or get help from.
There are many types of advisory councils throughout the county. They are valuable and function well. Each has a specific focus for a specific need and are volunteer driven. Many serve non-profits and educational institutions. Thus, they can provide in-depth analyses about a chosen concern. However, none of them is an elected, quasi-governmental body, as proposed by the Steering Committee. Nor do they require funding by the County. California Government Code (31010) does allow a Board of Supervisors to create and maintain a “Municipal Advisory Council.” The proposal letter from the Steering Committee quotes from that Code but broadens the scope of an advisory council significantly, by including the entire list of possible concerns. The proposal reads like a description of a City Council – a political layer with elections and demands for public funds (presumably for staff to maintain agendas, minutes, public notice and reporting). Does the County have the staff and funds for that? After Covid-19 and the CZU Fire, that’s highly unlikely. There are better ways to use staff and funds to amplify response to local public and personal needs.
Counties are set up with one Supervisor per District. Is the problem that the Supervisor and staff don’t know what SLV problems, issues and concerns are? We don’t think so. Isn’t the problem that, with Covid-reduced staffing, it has been a challenge to respond to every concern, especially when adding on a major wildfire?
The County currently has limited resources to share among the five Districts. Does this mean that the 5th District Supervisors haven’t recognized the needs and dreams of this community, and worked successfully to get funding, including grants, for the needs and dreams specific to the SLV? No, it doesn’t. Most recently, for example, our new Felton Library’s Discovery Park is a County Park that was otherwise unattainable. The Boulder Creek Recreation and Park District’s Bear Creek Community Center (and pool) was acquired only with County support. A $10 million carve-out for the SLV in the Measure D transportation Plan is serving us all, as is the establishment of the State’s largest Community-Choice Energy Agency that provides climate-friendly electric power at a lower cost. The innovative Office of Response, Recovery and Resilience is helping CZU fire victims now, while assuring our community is preparing for inevitable future disasters, to respond during emergencies and assist with recovery.
Obviously, representing both Scotts Valley and the SLV does not inevitably cause the 5th District Supervisor to fail to address SLV resident’s concerns, as stated in one article. What about protecting health and safety? In the past year, the Supervisor’s Office obtained unanimous approval from the entire Board of Supervisors to demand legal accountability from the California Public Utilities Commission for the personally devastating, environmentally destructive, and property-value damaging atrocities that it committed after the CZU fire. PG&E illegally cleared many thousands of burned but recovering trees of every species, causing immeasurable personal trauma, delaying recovery of the forests, accelerating climate change, exacerbating erosion threatening mudslides, and degrading vital sources of water supply. PG&E has thus further delayed recovery throughout the CZU fire zone – and is being held accountable. No other fire-damaged county has taken that step, to stand up to PG&E. Community members like you and us, working with the Supervisor, need to continue that fight and others.
The Valley Press piece, introducing the SLV Community Advisory Board idea, stated that the Board of Forestry’s Fire Safe emergency vehicle access regulations, designed to restrict building homes in forested areas, provided a good example of how “underrepresented communities” are left behind in discussions. That is, in fact, wrong. The SLV was not left behind; being well represented, our CZU Fire victims will not be prevented from rebuilding due to far more strict vehicle access regulations. They will be able to rebuild because SLV Supervisor McPherson not only wrote a letter, but he arranged testimony to the Board of Forestry. He personally testified, along with Planning’s Assistant Director, Paia Levine, and Analyst for the innovative Office of Response, Recovery and Resilience, David Reid. They challenged the proposal as harmful to established rural communities like the SLV. As a result, CZU Fire victims can rebuild.
There are many questions that add to our concern. The most worrisome: Do we need another election campaign in the Valley? With costs increasing, and the potential for political rancor and division, can an effective Council be assured? Whether elected or appointed, what responsibility does the Board of Supervisors have in doing whatever the Council wants? If a 7-member Advisory Council votes 4 to 3 on a particularly contentious issue, can it claim to represent the community to the Board? Can your personal ideas, concerns, and complaints be addressed this way? Won’t there be significant potential for political bias impacting decisions? Will this improve the ability of the Supervisor to meet the community’s needs or demands?
Much of the Steering Committee’s social media and radio conversations, and print media articles, have expressed the need for adequate representation and response – and the importance of public participation. We agree. There is a crucial need for community involvement to stimulate government action. However, along with the primary issue of adding another expensive layer between us and our County government is the question of the rationale for an Advisory Council with such an all-encompassing range of concerns, with significant political power holding the possibility of impropriety. Arguments for the Council suggested that our Supervisor’s Office does not represent the individuals of the SLV, and that it has little influence in regional or state matters. We can honestly report that this is not true – now or in the past – having worked closely with local Supervisors over many years. This is evident in the key ways things have improved over the years, as delineated above. It is undeniable that there are enormous amounts of work to be done, with Covid’s additional impacts worsening everything, especially the already tremendously frustrating stumbling blocks to rebuilding from the Fire, and slowing things down for so many, and thwarting timely results. Introducing a lengthy and time-consuming Board of Supervisors’ process for the creation of the type of advisory council proposed, and the campaigns and elections that would follow, can only worsen the situation.
We urge our friends and neighbors in the San Lorenzo Valley to reject the “SLV Community Advisory Council,” as proposed, to remain involved and speak out, so the problems facing us now – and those future problems that arise – can be resolved with greater efficiency, as solutions are identified and then implemented.
Les Gardner (Felton), Ann Thryft (Boulder Creek), Ron Sekkel (Ben Lomond), Leslie Steiner (Felton), Bob Gliner (Boulder Creek), Jeannette Larson (Boulder Creek), Renee Shepherd (Felton), Coco Raner-Walter (Ben Lomond), Linda Moore (Boulder Creek), Robin Musitelli (Ben Lomond), Susan St. John (Boulder Creek), Nancy Macy (Boulder Creek), Kristen Sandel (Ben Lomond), Jim Mosher (Felton), Jen Parks (Boulder Creek), Bob Locatelli (Boulder Creek), Cindy Shepherd (Ben Lomond), Michele Mosher (Felton), Judi Sherman (Ben Lomond)
Cc: Supervisor Bruce McPherson, State Assemblymember Mark Stone, State Senator John Laird, Congresswoman, Anna Eshoo