Conference aims to get locals to participate in long-range regional planning.
Thursday, March 12, 1998
A plan for keeping the local economy "sustainable" that has been on the drawing board since last July will have its first chance to go public this Friday at the Sustainable Development Forum for the Central Coast.
Presented by the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments (AMBAG) and the Monterey Bay Region Futures Network, the event at the Monterey Hyatt will include break-out discussion groups centered on education, health care, agriculture, tourism, education/research, the military and high tech/light manufacturing, all focusing on the idea of preserving natural, social and economic resources to meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the needs of future generations.
Thus far, the Monterey Bay 21st Century Strategic Plan merely identifies areas of concern for various segments of the area''s economy and population, including transportation, affordable housing, water quality and quantity, ag land and open space preservation, and work force development. Eventually, the plan will call for specific guidelines and sometime next year, will go on the road for review by local communities. In its final form--some three years after its inception--it will serve as the first-ever blueprint for regional economic development in Monterey, San Benito and Santa Cruz counties.
Although visionary in its mission, the Futures Network has thus far worked largely behind the scenes. With nearly 30 active board members, representing broad-based economic, educational and nonprofit sectors, the organization initially grew out of focus groups funded by PG&E to explore the economic impact on Monterey County of the Fort Ord closure.
Since then, so-called "Action Teams" have shared ideas and resources among private, public and educational organizations, sponsoring events such as the recent Global Electronic Trade Information Technologies Conference held last month. Despite engineering the impressive Bay Area''s Information Infrastructure that several years ago helped establish Internet connections for a variety of local educational institutions, there has been some skepticism expressed privately from both within and without about the group''s effectiveness in getting its various projects off the ground. The Futures Network has also come under fire for its failure to generate more public input.
With little public outreach as a result of the economic sustainability conference sponsored by AMBAG last September, event organizers are counting on broad-based community input to emerge at this week''s event.
"We have made the strategic plan our number one priority," says Futures Network board member Donna Blitzer, "and the purpose of this meeting is to increase public awareness of what the Futures Network is trying to do and to encourage grassroots participation in creating a long-range strategy for the region."
At Friday''s conference, participants will be asked to address the questions, "Where are we now in terms of sustainable development?", "Where do we want to be in three years?", "How will we achieve our goals?", and "How do we measure our progress?"
"Based on information we receive at the forum, we will create a read-out on the health of the region--its environment, social services, and economy--and recommend how government and business can enhance that," says Network board member Dan Haifley. "We will also develop a series of performance indicators to evaluate the progress toward sustainability."
Within the month, the Network board also plans to finalize the appointment of a Strategic Plan''s Blue Ribbon Advisory Committee, secure grants to fund its three-year, $100,000 budget, and continue community outreach programs.
"I think the value of a regional and broadly collaborative group that represents many economic, educational and environmental sectors allows you to move forward with projects, whereas a locally-based organization might get entangled with its own jurisdictional problems," says Blitzer.
But this conference may be the impetus the Network needs to finally put its long-range strategy in motion, as concerned citizens become increasingly frustrated with a lack of long-range planning; an outdated Monterey County General Plan; and the stop-gap, General Plan amendments that approve controversial development projects such as Chualar II and Rancho San Carlos.
"The concept of sustainable development is a very hot topic these days," says Monterey County District 5 Supervisor Dave Potter. "The more outreach you do along these lines, the better chance you have to educate the business community and elected officials about appropriate development."
"If planning for the future is going to take hold, it will have to come from the grassroots level," adds Network board member Steve Ellzey. "Whether or not this conference has teeth will depend on what participants bite off--and their propensity to chew."
The Regional Sustainable Development Strategy Forum takes place on Friday, 8am-12:30pm at the Monterey Hyatt Hotel Conference Center, 1 Old Golf Course Rd., Monterey. Admission is $20 and includes a continental breakfast. For more information, contact Steve Ellzey at 784-1702.