You may have heard that the Board voted 4/1 last week to send the proposed voluntary Oak Tree Program back to staff for inclusion in the update of the Wildlife Handbook.
This decision caused a great deal of confusion on the part of some… why, after several years of review and hard work, would the Board do that?
As I have written before, our current committee review system is not working very well. A proposed program or ordinance is sent to the hard-working Board of Supervisors Planning Committee and they begin the arduous process of revising, adding, and deleting from the original draft.
By the time the revised draft gets through that Committee and 4 County Planning Commissions for review, comment, and revision, staff make their revisions, and County Counsel makes their legal revisions, not only is the draft more complicated, but it frequently is not something that stands a prayer of winning 3 votes from the Board.
And unfortunately, if the Board makes any “substantial” changes to the document, the document has to start all the way back at the Planning Committee again. That’s got to change. That’s what might have happened with the proposed Oak Tree Program, had the Board adopted a substantially changed Oak Tree Program.
The document that went into Committee wasn’t too bad, but what came out the other end after being massaged by committees, commissions, and staff was hopelessly complicated and widely unsupported. Even those enthusiastically in favor of an Oak Tree Program didn’t like it as it came to the Board since they felt it eroded protections already afforded Oak woodlands in CEQA and didn’t include old growth Oaks in the document.
My problem with the document and proposed Oak Tree Program didn’t go to specific mitigation actions – I didn’t get that far. My concern was that to vote for the Program as submitted to the Board, required me to agree that the proposed draft would not have a “significant” impact on the environment as defined by CEQA and wasn’t subject to environmental review.
It appeared to me (and others) that the impact would indeed be significant. One person to whom I spoke went so far as to mention filing a lawsuit over that specific issue. I agree that draft would have made the county vulnerable.
In the course of public comment on the proposed draft, a member of the audience tried to broker what he called a “compromise” and suggested 4 or 5 ways the draft could be changed to provide increased protection for Oak woodlands and old growth Oaks.
What I wanted to hear from him was that he felt those changes would bring the proposed Program into a place of compliance where no significant environmental impacts result.
He couldn’t tell me what I needed to hear.
The Tuolumne County Wildlife Handbook will be updated in 2008 and in fact, a consultant will be brought on board to begin the update this month or next.
Staff has maintained from the beginning of the process that even if approved, the Oak Tree Program will be updated in the Wildlife Handbook. Bev Shane (CDD Director) and Dan Applebee (CDFG) both assured the Board that CDD can and will continue to enforce the provisions of CEQA (relative to Oak woodlands) and the General Plan (relative to old growth Oak) on a case by case basis.
Tuesday’s action to send the Program back for revisions that make it legally defensible, beneficial to Oaks, and able to secure 3 votes on the Board was the only viable choice.