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.
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.