Sex In The County
Breaking Up is Easy.
Thursday, September 11, 2003
Our Story Thus Far: Three months ago, when County Supervisors appointed the so-called Refinement Committee to look at the General Plan, consensus seemed doable-even likely. Policy makers and pundits alike were able to suspend disbelief (albeit for a few moments only) and imagine a county where environmentalists and developers could break bread together, share a bottle of Monterey County Chardonnay, and agree on something.
After eight long meetings, the panel reached consensus on one thing: that meetings should begin and end on time. And now, groups including LandWatch, North County Citizens, FANES (the Friends, Artists and Neighbors of Elkhorn Slough) and the local Sierra Club-in other words the environmental minority that generally likes the General Plan-have given up on the committee.
It''s hot and stuffy in the meeting room at the Leadership Institute. Hotter and stuffier than usual, thinks the girl reporter. Some audience members fan themselves, using the Refinement Committee minutes and agendas.
Bob McKenzie, a consultant to several agriculture and hospitality groups, wanders over to where the girl reporter''s sitting (his wife, Sheryl McKenzie, sits on the committee, representing the Monterey County Association of Realtors). He''s probably hoping for a mention in her weekly column, she thinks. She''s right.
"I''ve been in love with over-the-calf argyle socks for quite some time," he says, pulling up his pant leg. "In fact," he whispers, "I even wear them with my cowboy boots."
Now it''s time for public comment. Douglas Fay, looking the part of the River Road rancher-activist in jeans and a red plaid button-down, cracks a joke.
"What do you call a consensus committee approved by a 3-2 vote?" he asks. "A refinement committee." No one laughs. Farm Bureau Director Bob Perkins rises to say that "four individuals" have made the committee "unproductive," and calls for abandonment of the consensus approach. "I think we should make it a democratic practice, which means majority rules."
Prunedale Chamber of Commerce''s Gary DeAmaral cuts in: "I''d rather not talk about consensus all afternoon," he says.
But it''s only 1:30pm. This group is just getting started.
For the next couple hours, the group debates affordable-housing policy. The panel has been arguing about the policy for three weeks. In fact, it''s the only policy that the group has tackled-all the rest of the time has been eaten up by process and name-calling.
Some members say the minimum density should be six units per acre. Others say seven, and still others say 10.
Co-facilitator Bill Yeates, who''s being paid about $1,000 an hour to sit through these meetings, thinks he may see something that looks like consensus. "I''m hearing that density isn''t a deal breaker," he says.
Independent Growers Association''s Nancy Isakson, wearing a leopard-print scarf, moves on to a discussion of services. (Leopard print is the new black, the girl reporter thinks to herself.) "Because there''s no definition [of commercial services] here, it''s going to be very hard to make it a requirement," Isakson says.
A few cheap shots at LandWatch from Nick Lombardo, and it appears that services may be a deal breaker.
"It''s more complicated, certainly," Yeates says. "It needs further discussion." It''s 3:37pm. The last refinement committee meeting ever is slated to end in 23 minutes. The plate of cookies-a mix of oatmeal, chocolate chip and white chocolate with macadamia nuts-is almost gone.
Attorney Brian Finegan, who represents 21st Century Solutions, reminds the panel that this body should keep meeting. Members'' reactions are once again split.
"When we do agree, everything seems to be fine," says Sierra Club''s Gillian Taylor. "When we don''t agree, we get attacked."
The pro-development majority of the committee, many of whom wanted the Supes to ditch the General Plan altogether, say they want more discussion. They decide to keep meeting, without the facilitators, whose contracts are up at 4pm, without a set meeting place, and without the groups they were mandated to cooperate with.
Maybe consensus will become a reality after all, the girl reporter thinks.