Nov. 3 Planning Commission Meeting Commentary

November 6, 2016
Commentary on November 3rd Planning Commission Meeting
MBCA Board member Pat Flanagan shares her impressions of the Community Plan portion of the Planning Commission Meeting:
 
The desert and Joshua Tree were presented at the end of the Workshop, following maps from the Valley and Mountains communities. The order was a plus because we had the chance to see how the other communities (Community Plans not mentioned) were treated. If they had any issues we didn't hear about them, except from Lucerne Valley. The presenters used an app that allowed the viewer to see maps in more detail as they were discussed by the planner. 
Early on Commissioner Smith asked if these maps were meant to change the zoning without going back to the community. We were assured by Planning Director Terri Rahhal that they are not zoning maps. (Nevermind that they show zoning and the zoning is different from the zoning in the Community Plan) I think I also heard Director Rahhal say they were not really land use maps either. If true who knows what they are except "necessary to be used to do land use modeling and environmental analysis for the Countywide Plan."
 
Numerous people spoke to how incorrect the maps are from what is there now. Also the maps need to show the wildlife corridors and flood plains. They spoke to the lack of analysis, based on the sticky notes, to provide the community with recommendations justifying zoning changes.
 
Commissioner Welty, echoed by Chairperson Mathews, based on his analysis from Altamira, did not think that the maps were going in the right direction to solve the problem of the disconnect between the Community Plan and the Countywide Map. Ultimately Director Rahhal finally said they had got it wrong in Joshua Tree and needed to return to the community for more input. True. There is a consensus by community members that future community planning meetings should be during MAC meetings. We also anticipate the process will include actually looking at the existing Community Plan instead of writing on sticky notes and spending fake dollars for 'favored projects.'
 
Joshua Tree resident Janet Johnston went to San Bernardino and from there delivered a very clear statement on the California Codes that govern Community Plans, General Plans, and Zoning. See attached document "Altamira Legals."
Here are further emailed comments from Pat regarding the ongoing challenge of communicating with the County and all the good people of Joshua Tree and the Morongo Basin who continue to insist that their voices be heard:
 
Please do not leave out the extended basin full of activists who made Planning Director Terri Rahhal have to admit that she got it wrong.  The appeals and lawsuits, and those that made them happen, are powerful weapons still in play.  The comments - all of them, written and oral - were serious, important, right on. We absolutely will not participate in games of pin the colored post-it on the donkey's ass. We will have serious discussions and the MAC appears to be the best forum.  (Next MAC meeting will be Monday, January 9, 2017.)
The Planning Commissioners are:
 
1st District – Jonathan Weldy (Supervisro Lovingood)
2nd District -  Raymond J. Allard (Supervisro Rutherford)
3rd District – Paul F. Smith (Supervisro Ramose)
4th District – Nan Rider (Supervisor Hagman)
5th District – Audrey Mathews (Supervisor Gonzales)
 

Background:

COMMUNITY PLAN RESOURCES
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October 31, 2016 - in preparation for the November 3 County Planning Commission meeting, Pat Flanagan, MBCA Director and Morongo Basin MAC representative provides perspective on revision to the Countywide Land Use Maps:

On November 3 a workshop is scheduled for the Planning Commission to review the proposed revisions to the Countywide Land Use Map introduced by Land Use Services. These revisions result from the ‘recommendations’ gleaned from input at the Community Plan workshops in 12 communities as part of the Countywide Update. The Planning Commission will review and consider comments on proposed map revisions for use in land use modeling and environmental analysis for the Countywide Plan. (Italics, Staff Report)
 
The County staff states the revisions to the JT Map are based on community ‘recommendations’ from 3 earlier meetings.
 
What are these recommendations? We don’t know. There are no recommendations posted for review.
 
What is posted? A list of thoughts transcribed from the colored sticky notes tacked up under the headings: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats, Values, and Aspirations. The exercise is called a SWOT Analysis only there was no analysis, just a data gathering list, and you can make what you want of it.  Here is the list of data gathered during the SWOT process.
 
What we do not know: 1) the guiding ‘recommendations’; 2) if staff interpreted the sticky notes ‘data points’ from the SWOT Analysis correctly; and 3) if the arrived at ‘recommendations’ accurately reflect the 2007 Community Plan, currently in force.
 
What did the County not do: 1) they did not compare the SWOT data to the Community Plan Values, Goal and Policies during the community meeting(s); 2) they did not discuss at the community meetings the strengths and weaknesses of the current Community Plan and how to improve on the weaknesses; and 3) they did not return to the community to ground truth their conclusions. This should be done at a MAC meeting.
 
What we do know from experience: the County staff recommended approval of the Tract Map for the 248 unit Altamira Gated Development on 105 acres of Joshua Tree woodland because it meets a high standard of low density, low impact development. Staff also found that the development was consistent with all applicable County policies and plans. (Italics, Staff Recommendations)
 
We ask ourselves if these staff recommendations reflect The JT Community Plan purpose to provide provisions for orderly growth that will preserve the small town desert character of the community and protect the plan areas natural resources (Italics, JTCP page 15).
 
Outcomes: The last two JT projects approved by the Planning Commission were appealed to the Board of Supervisors. The appeals, based on CEQA violations and lack of consistency with the JT Community Plan, lost. Lawsuits have been filed by JT community members against the County for their approval of both the NextEra Solar Project and the Altamira Gated Development.
 
The maps presented for review are:
 
1) Difficult to read-there are too few location identifiers.
 
2) Difficult to interpret; i.e. acreage is proposed to be rezoned from Rural Living to Single Residential. What does that mean? In the JTCP (Figure 2.1 and Table 2) there are 4 categories under RL Rural Living (5, 10, and 20 acre parcels) and 5 under RS Single Residential (lots form 10–14,000 sq. ft. and 1 acre). The provided maps (both current and proposed) lump all the categories together, as though there is no meaningful difference between a 1-acre lot and a 10,000 sq. ft. lot. The maps do not show the meaningful information that allows informed decision-making.
 
3) Not consistent with JTCP Land Use Policy map. (Figure 2.1, Page 17). No data or ‘recommendations’ to support County changes.
 
4) Out of date. The base maps for the current and proposed changes maps are out-of-date. Obvious examples include Cascade Solar zoning is still single residential and something else difficult to determine. Multiple residential is frontage for MDLT’s Section 33 along Hwy. 62, with a neighborhood commercial bit on the south west corner. 
 
5) Not Ready for Planning Commission Review
Community members do not have enough information for informed decision making. And neither does the County. The DRAFT map should be brought to the monthly MAC meeting for review, discussion, and correction. We are still at the 1st step on the Land Use Plan labeled July 2016 “Land Use Map – Community Recommendations – input”.  This should be captured/finished before proceeding.  
 
To date the Countywide Planning Process has lacked meaningful community communication, which includes the exchange of information, listening by both sides to feedback, and transparency in reporting. On the Joshua Tree Land Use Plan bubble map community input is lacking (1 red star on blue path). Feedback from the communities should be built into all the blue Community Plan milestones if the Countywide Plan and Adoption Process is to go smoothly.
 

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