Sex And The County
All Tied Up: 'Refinement committee' can't agree on anything.
Thursday, July 24, 2003
Our story thus far:
Four years ago, county planners set out to draft the General Plan--a 20-year blueprint for future growth in Monterey County. Environmentalists loved the draft document. Then land-use attorneys and would-be developers stepped in. They began a stealth campaign to convince County Supervisors to toss the General Plan, and let a "broad-based citizens'' advisory committee" rewrite the document. Last month, Supervisor Lou Calcagno proposed a "refinement group" to review the Plan.
For some lovers, there''s no foreplay like a good fight. In their violent fantasies, yelling and name-calling are definite turn-ons. Sweet nothings and tender touches get the boot, so to speak. And we all know just how good makeup sex can be.
Maybe this will be the case with the so-called "refinement committee," a group of 25 very different people that met for the first time on July 17.
Appointed by County Supes to reach "consensus" on the General Plan, the group will meet once a week for the next eight weeks before presenting its recommendations to the Board.
Included in the group are LandWatch''s Gary Patton and the Farm Bureau''s Bob Perkins--two men who probably have not agreed on one thing during the four-year General Plan Update process. According to the Supes'' logic, put the two in a room together and they''re sure to kiss and make up.
Hardly. While there was plenty of fighting at last week''s committee meeting, makeup sex never came.
It was a very hot, very sunny Thursday afternoon. The girl reporter arrived at 1:15pm for the 1pm meeting (after driving up and down Garden Road looking for parking, and hoofing it a mile to the Leadership Institute in her three-inch Mary Jane heels and new Donna Karan pants). She walked in just in time to hear that the public comment period, Item One on the agenda, was officially over. Two people had given public comments. The rest--primarily feisty Big Sur residents, angry about their exclusion from the committee--were not happy.
As land-use attorney and co-facilitator Bill Yeates moved on to agenda Item Two (introduction of the meeting facilitators), Big Sur resident Mike Caplin jumped to his feet. He''s got a loud voice, curly graying hair, and one of those slightly patronizing, I-know-I''m-right smiles.
Oh goody, she thought. Let''s get this party started.
Caplin loudly interrupted Yeates: "There are people who have driven hours to come here, and there was no 15-minute time limit on the agenda. There is no such thing as a consensus if you don''t have everyone at the table."
Yeates responded: "We provided 15 minutes to speak. Two people spoke on the issue. We are welcoming you and we will provide you every opportunity to state your concerns." (The girl reporter finished the sentence: Just as long as you keep it real brief.)
Caplin was just getting started.
The Big Sur residents feel that this committee is stacked against them--and they''re not alone. In fact, it is loaded with developers and ag interests who would rather scrap the growth document, and who are all set to undo the four years of work that went into the General Plan update.
To these minority voices on the committee, it feels more like abuse than sex play. They feel like they''re getting screwed. There is plenty of evidence to support this idea.
At a June 24 Board meeting, Supervisor Lou Calcagno made a motion--a three-page, prewritten motion--that created this refinement group, a panel including the Sierra Club, the Realtors Association, the Vintners & Growers Association and the United Farm Workers.
The motion read like textbook legalese--which the girl reporter thought seemed a bit odd coming from Calcagno; he''s a very smart politician, but (to his credit) he speaks like a farmer, not a lawyer.
According to several inside sources, attorney Bill Yeates--the very man now serving as co-facilitator--played a major role in writing Calcagno''s motion. (The two are friends, and worked together on the General Plan ag viability group that met regularly at Scheid Vineyards.)
Caplin said it out loud: "People in this room decided who would be on that list and who would be left out. We want to participate, not comment."
Yeates: "You''ve made your point as far as you''re wanting to be a part of this group. The demonstration you''re about ready to make is that unless the Big Sur community is included, the rest of the county can''t operate.
Caplin: "Now you''re getting the point."
Elana Schwartz, who works for the County Leadership Center, introduced herself as a facilitator.
Huh? A third facilitator?
Schwartz nods and smiles a lot, and talks with her hands. She says things like, "what I''m hearing," and "as I understand it." But apparently, the Supes needed two more facilitators.
According to their contracts, both Yeates'' and co-facilitator Larry Mintier''s pay "shall not exceed the sum of $24,999" for eight, three-hour sessions.
The girl reporter starts brainstorming ways she can make $1K an hour. She wakes up upon glancing at the clock. It''s 1:45pm, and the Big Sur contingent has hijacked the meeting. Finally they agree to let the panel proceed on the condition that the group will ask the Supes to give their group a seat at the table.
Now Mintier introduces himself. The girl reporter chuckles quietly, recalling the last time Mintier spoke in front of a similar group of people--that time he blasted the plan. At that meeting, Mintier was working for 21st Century Solutions, a business-based group that opposes the plan. Now he''s on the county''s payroll.
While Mintier was introducing himself, the girl reporter entertained herself by counting the members of the committee who are also members of 21st Century Solutions. Aside from the official reps on the panel--attorneys Brian Finegan and Christine Gianascol--she counted at least 11.
The girl reporter again checks the clock. It''s now 2:45pm. The meeting''s scheduled to end at 4pm. It''s time for the group to agree on its first proposed guideline: stating that meetings will start and end on time.
It sounds like a slam-dunk. It''s not.
After another long debate, the group stalls on the definition of the word "consensus." Some say it means unanimous agreement. Others say majority rules. The environmental contingent--far outnumbered by development interests--worry that this definition will mean their voices will be muted.
"I know how the votes are going to come down in this group," says Zad Leavy of the Big Sur Land Trust. "It''s no secret. I think everybody can predict them now."
A cute guy with big brown eyes sitting next to the girl reporter starts banging his head against the wall behind him. "This is ridiculous," he mutters. She smiles sympathetically, and nods in agreement.
It''s 3:35pm. Yeates intervenes--perhaps worried about his paycheck.
"You can''t decide when to start or stop," he says. "You can''t decide on consensus. The issue really is, do you want to do this?"
After a short break, Schwartz reconvenes the group. Schwartz proposes a thumb vote--thumbs up means let the meetings continue, thumbs to the side means the meetings will be tolerated, and thumbs down means meet no more. Everyone''s are up or sideways.
At next week''s meeting the group agrees to tackle the items they didn''t get to on the agenda, and the ones they couldn''t agree upon. In other words, they''ll start from scratch.
Maybe it''s time for the facilitators to bring out the whips and chains.
The Refinement Group will meet from 1-4pm, Thursday, July 24 at the Nutter Conference Center, 1432 Abbott St., Salinas.