Letter to the editor: uncritical thinking from the dias

inyosups2014New upholstery needed 

by Daniel Pritchett

It’s long been asserted that the upholstery in the chairs used by the Board of Supervisors (BoS) contains a secret chemical inhibiting the supervisors’ ability to think critically about statements made by their staff.

Another example of this chemical’s effects was seen when the BoS recently considered the proposed Munro Valley solar facility near Olancha.  As so often happens, an inadequate environmental review had been done and local residents objected to the project with good reason.  In addition, the Planning Department had drafted a general plan amendment (GPA) — applicable to the entire county — to facilitate the project.

The Owens Valley Committee (OVC) wrote and asked that the BoS at least modify the GPA so it would apply only to the parcels in question.  OVC even submitted sample language showing how the amendment could easily be re-worded.

What happened?

Planning Director Josh Hart reportedly asserted that the GPA applied only to the Munro Valley project parcels but cited no evidence to support his assertion.  Anyone who understands English and reads the amendment (only four sentences long) will see he is incorrect.  It contains no language constraining its application to the Munro Valley project.

What did the BoS do?

It asserted the GPA applied only to the Munro Valley parcels and approved the project.

We can expect more un-critical thinking in the next few weeks when the BoS railroads through the Adventure Trails program (December 2).  And BoS consideration of the Renewable Energy General Plan Amendment (REGPA) is just around the corner.

But didn’t the BoS just approve a renewable energy general plan amendment as part of the Munro Valley Project?  It certainly did!  However, the forthcoming REGPA will be worse than the one for the Munro Valley project, because even the planning department admits the preferred alternative in the next REGPA will create significant adverse impacts to the viewshed, cultural, and biological resources.  And, of course, it will keep the door open for industrial-scale solar in the heart of Owens Valley, in the very places the public just last spring emphatically said should be closed to industrial-scale solar.

What a sad legacy this BoS will leave.  Instead of helping ranchers and Bishop homeowners dried up by DWP, this BoS helped DWP try to send more water down the aqueduct via the Owens Lake Master Plan/Project.  Instead of trying to sustain our quality of life, it is about to approve the Adventure Trails program, which will inflict green sticker dirt bikes and OHV’s on Bishop Park and residential neighborhoods throughout the valley.  And, last but not least, it has done its best to keep Owens Valley open for industrial-scale solar notwithstanding the indignation of its constituents.

I hope when the new board convenes in January its first action will be to re-upholster its chairs.

12 Responses to Letter to the editor: uncritical thinking from the dias

  1. PUZZLED November 17, 2014 at 6:01 pm #

    After reading about last Wednesday’s meeting in which the Munro Valley Solar Project was approved, I keep thinking I am missing a critical piece of the puzzle. Apparently several people requested that the decision by the Board be delayed so that all the information that was presented by the public and Ms. Terrie Robinson could be read and considered. I am puzzled about why that didn’t happen in the face of a serious threat of litigation. It makes me think there are things being discussed out of the public’s view that may have influenced the Board’s decision.

    Was the proponent under a time crunch for getting the project approved? There always seems to be some sort of money involved…tax credits? If so, the public should at least know that fact so it doesn’t look to us like the Board made a hasty ill informed decision that may put the County at risk for litigation. Any time the County is sued, all of us tax payers end up opening our wallets. The County doesn’t print money.

    • Charles James November 18, 2014 at 12:51 pm #

      The County and the Supervisors have their own own legal counsel and they do not agree with Ms. Robinson’s assessment on CEQA. She is no expert on it herself and, btw, she admitted as much during the meeting that she only became aware of the project the week before and that she was not yet “up to speed” on it. So she was literally “speaking off the cuff.” Time will tell if her “threat of the possibility of lawsuit” (note the word “possibility”) turns out to be unfounded. If it happens, well then it happens, unless of course it doesn’t. What else is new in our overly-litigious society?

      So the idea of stopping everything on the mere threat of a lawsuit is, on the face of it, ludicrous. Not all lawsuits are successful and not all “threatened lawsuits” actually go to court. And again, the County Counsel felt there was no merit to Robinson’s threat. Also, anyone based in reality that is remotely familiar with business knows that “time is money.” The Munro Valley Solar Project, LLC, has already invested much time, effort and money to meet the requirements they were told needed to be met. Why would they or the County want further delay?

      While there were several residents from Olancha at the meeting opposing the project (astoundingly, a few of whom said they had only just heard about the project!), it has been in the public record for something like two years now. As to the request for more delay, it is almost guaranteed that whenever someone opposes a project in Inyo County (or just about anywhere else for that matter), especially on environmental grounds, there are always those that want further delay. In some cases it is merited– just not in this one. As pointed out by others, this project meets all the requirements of DREGPA. In fact, it is a “poster child” of how it should be done, or at least how it should be done according to the several environmentalists and groups that were so vocal during the discussion of the REGPA.

      What is really appears to be happening, once again, is simple obstructionism that is based largely on NIMBYism, self-interests, “no-growth advocacy,” and to some extent, the attitude of those unable to accept anything that might result in anything resembling progress or change in Inyo County– unless it somehow conforms to their own personal self-interests or their organizational objectives, which often amount to the same thing. Just to be clear, there is nothing wrong with holding any of these positions. It is their right to do and there is no evidence that the Planning Commission or the Board of Supervisors have not allowed anyone to exercise those rights. On the other hand, society is not yet so based on radical individualism and personal self-interests that any one person or group should be allowed to stop progress that is largely accepted to be in the best interests of society or the community as a whole, especially if appropriate mitigation measures are in place.

    • Desert Tortoise November 18, 2014 at 1:18 pm #

      Puzzled, generally to be in compliance with the Brown Act, all material used to consider any measure to be discussed at a public meeting of a legislative body ought to be made available to the public along with the agenda for that meeting 72 hours prior to the meeting. This is done to ensure the public has the opportunity to read all the materials and have questions ready to ask during public comments preceding discussion of the measure in question. Was this material included in the agenda packet Puzzled? If it was, then there is no need to provide anyone with more time to read and understand anything. Demanding such is just a stalling tactic. The Board has an obligation to provide the information ahead of the meeting, but attendees also have an obligation to read the material before the meeting and either understand it or have questions ready to ask.

      If, however, the materials were not made available to the public 72 hours in advance of the meeting there would be grounds for filing charges of a Brown Act violation and there would be just grounds for asking the Board for an extension to read and understand the materails.

  2. Charles James November 17, 2014 at 11:52 am #

    A “secret chemical inhibiting the supervisors’ ability to think critically about statements made by their staff.” Really? Of course not.

    There is a reason that county staff and county supervisors may not pay as much respect or attention to the OVC’s arguments or positions on issues when it allows members to make unnecessary gratuitous and belittling remarks on its behalf. Many might agree that there is generally little argumentative value in simply being either a jerk or an ass.

    Very recently someone with OVC confided in me that to be appointed to a County’s commission, it was best to not be associated with OVC. Why? According to this person the group is often perceived as “almost always negative and unnecessarily adversarial with a ‘my way or the highway” approach on many issues that needlessly turn off those with whom they might otherwise influence.” This individual (who requested anonymity for obvious reasons) said that, “Simply put, keeping close ties to OVC or having its support hurts the chances of ever being appointed to a County board or commission– which is sad because being on them would place people in the best position to influence the county’s environmental policies and decision-making,” going on to note that “It is possible to both protect the environment and yet still provide opportunities for economic growth in a county desperately in need of it.”

    When someone makes unnecessary, belittling public comments about others that question their intelligence, values, sincerity, or competence, such as those often made towards County Supervisors’ and County staff, why on earth should they (or anyone else targeted in such a manner) listen? County Supervisors are elected to represent their constituents and act in what they feel are in the residents’ best interests. After all, if they fail to do so, they can be recalled or not be re-elected.

    For the most part, like many others, I largely support the efforts of the OVC mission, which is “seeking just and sustainable management of Owens Valley land and water resources.” I also have several good friends that are very active OVC members, and although we sometimes disagree on some issues and tactics, the fact is–life goes on… as does our friendship.

    There is no question that Pritchett is a “smart guy”–one whose efforts have benefited the environment and environmental community in many ways—but his letter does beg the question: Why can’t he write or present an effective argument on behalf of the organization that doesn’t antagonize or attempt to belittle the very people in the decision-making process who are the ones most likely to benefit the goals of the OVC and help it achieve successful outcomes? Smart–not snark–would best serve that end.

  3. Philip Anaya November 17, 2014 at 10:42 am #

    There are some important issues missing from the Munro Approval.
    The current REGPA Process now being funded by the CEC (California Energy Commission) is the result of a lawsuit brought several years back that questioned the establishment of a REGPA without a CEQA process and the public process that goes along with it. A key element missing in the Munro Project approval is the absence of a REDA (Renewable Energy Development Area) location for this Project. Although the Project has been through a CEQA Mitigated Negative Declaration there remains the legal question regarding the second stage Cultural Study and the diminished public input/inclusion of the local Olancha Community. I did not participate in the meetings prior to this approval yet I attended and heard the reactions of the Community at the BoS meeting. The Community was never heard it seems with regard to the location and orientation of the Project. One local Resident stated that they were only given the opportunity to address issues like the fence design and proposed landscaping. The location was determined prior to these Public Meetings
    The REGPA Process is supposed to locate areas (REDAS) for possible development and the CEQA issues should be addressed in a way that allows greater participation and inclusion of the Community input. The establishment of the REDA’s should include appropriate locations, footprint requirements and mitigations to ensure that proposed Solar Projects and the process is the very best that we can do.
    Munro’s location and orientation was largely determined by the requirements of LADWP’s Feed-in Tariff Program. The Developer won two projects , one being 3 MW and the other 1 MW with each to be on seperate APN parcels . The location of the 20 acre 3MW location right on top of Highway 395 and the 10 acre 1 MW location should have been flipped with the larger part of the project being located furthur east, away from the Highway, away from what some local Residents said was their upcoming Main Street (once the Olancha Byway is constructed). This Resident concern was also a concern of BoS Members but the Developer said that they were limited to the Feed-in Tariff work already completed. Any changes to the location and siteing of the Project would negate the FiT agreement with DWP and the next project on the FIT Queue List (another Queue List) wolud be given the FiT agreement.
    The lesson of Munro is to avoid legimate complaints about public participation in the process. The designation and location of REDA’s is a vital step in the current REGPA Process.
    Inyo County did not need to create a Overlay that in actuality applies a defacto REDA over every parcel in Inyo County. Yes there is language in the Resolution saying that this Policy Overlay LU-5.9 is only intended for Munro. The Policy language is now in the General Plan but the intention is ambigious and not site specific. The policy creas written also designates 20MW as “Distributed” . That designation is not accurate per the previous comment. The Policy LU 5.9 should be amended immediately.
    20 MW projects are 120 acres in size. Munro is a totaly of 4MW . Again, 20 MW is a “Utility Scale” development . Munro is not the “Disributed Generation” Project that the REGPA Public Input asked for. The local distribution and scale of Munro at 4 MW is sustainable in my opinion but 20 MW 120 acres is not a scale of a Project that is in harmoney with the Inyo County environment and we can achieve 20 MW with “Distributed Generation Projects” for our local needs.
    This is what reflects the public input of all those REGPA meetings I attended. The motivation to establish Renewable Energy Projects has to come from a considered sustainable need . Dollars themselves should not drive RE Development anywhere on this Earth . The empty lands of the Estern Sierra are dollar signs to RE Developers, to RE Enginerring and Contracting Companies and to Transmission Line Builders . They do their thing with great profit in mind even including this small FiT Munro Project. I hope that our BoS will do a better job, will hear and include public input and in that way we can all feel like we are invested and part of decisions. The inclusion of vital and real concerns of Munro Solar did not drive this Approval process. There was not one member of the public who spoke , not one idea from the Public that supported the Project completely.
    Close counts in horse shoes and other refined activities but not with the Lands of the Inyo . We need to be precise with discussion and decision when it comes to the dissappearing environs of Nature or else Mr.Peabody’s Coal Train will haul it all away .

  4. Michael Prather November 16, 2014 at 9:16 am #

    The approval of the Munro project reflects agreement with the general public comments during the REGPA hearings – smaller scale solar, no wind. Thank you Inyo BOS for listening.

  5. Michael Prather November 15, 2014 at 12:11 pm #

    The approval of the Munro Valley project reflects the public comments during the REGPA hearings. In response to those comments heard from the public, the Inyo BOS approved Munro Valley, a less-than-20MW local community project that will require no new tower transmission. The public asked the Board to oppose large scale industrial solar and wind and to instead support local <20MW projects near communities. The Inyo BOS did just that Tuesday. I appreciate a responsive Board that listens and forms policy based on public input.

  6. Waxlips November 15, 2014 at 3:14 am #

    Money wins every time! Off to the funny farm with the little white men in their little white coats. People drive me crazy. Why are they so #%}<<~ blind? Why do most of us live here? Certainly not for the beauty of industrial solar farms. What's more important, money or Mother Nature, some people would sell their Mother for a dollar…

    • Desert Tortoise November 15, 2014 at 2:03 pm #

      Pretty hard to live without money Waxlips. Owens Valley doesn’t seem to have a lot to offer the outside world that will bring a lot of money in. Look at the economic condition of the region. Oh go blame LADWP for everything but if the valley was filled with agriculture you would look like all the shabby poor towns and cities in the San Joaquin Valley. So maybe you should welcome PV development instead of always finding reasons not to do or build something, unless you like living in poverty.

      Btw, sticking with thermal power generation using any of several fossil fuels have cultural and viewshed impacts too. Smog, respiratory ailments, open pit mines, etc all have a negative impact as well. It really is a case of choosing your poison, unless of course you want to do without electricity altogether. I mean, there is no way to produce the juice we all rely on to lead a civilized life without some negative impact. It is a good thing we didn’t have a nation of Waxlips two hundred years ago when we were building this great nation or we would still be living in 13 colonies reading by the light of a lantern.

      • Waxlips November 18, 2014 at 7:49 am #

        Were you offended TD?

  7. Eastside Bum November 14, 2014 at 5:13 pm #

    Is it possible that the Board of Supervisors are just trying to put the best economic interests for Inyo County first? If the area has seen little to no growth during the past several years (or more), then one can see the benefit of allowing these developments and projects. In regard to the solar I’m willing to believe that citizens and the county are tired of relying on tourism as a means of sustenance.

    The real battle for passing the Adventure Trails Program will take place in unincorporated areas, and neighborhoods surrounding Bishop. If I may suggest, the key to making a sound decision would be for the Board of Supervisors to research this subject with each person directly affected.

  8. Philip Anaya November 14, 2014 at 4:53 pm #

    The approval of the Munro Solar Project is the first of a Feed-in Tariff PV Solar Projects in Inyo County. Count fingers and toes there will be more . The application of the new Renewable Energy General Plan Amendment Disributed Solar Photovoltaic Policy LU-5.9 Overlay to the project site is a mistake needing immediate amendment to it’s wording. If this Policy is intended to be applied only to the Munro Project the language of this General Plan Amendment needs to be concise, accurate. The language of this latest GPA does not include any specific reference to Munro not the name, not the APN’s nor the limited size of Munro, 4 Mega Watts, non of this is included in the Policy LU-5.9 . Instead this Amendment to our General Plan w/o any CEQA process creates a Policy allowing for projects up to 20 MW which would 120 acres not the 30 acres of the Munro project.

    The word “Distributed” got thrown into the mix . This word can be either a noun or a verb .

    Thinking in the aftermath of the BoS Munro decision, I heard the words “brain drip” at the Astronomy Lecture last night (LOL) . There are three levels of PV Renewable Energy Generation. They are:
    (1) Distributed Generation. Just what the words say. At this level this would be Residential and Business Parcels with their individual energy producing PV or Wind Systems . These systems are intended for on-site consumption of the energy produced. Surplus energy as in grid tied systems is provided back to the Grid . Other systems in this catagory not grid tied would have a battery system or other means of energy storage. The size of the PV arrays would be determined by the on-site consumption . Projects in this catagory already in operation would be the solar installations of the Court House, the Jail, the Juvenile Hall, the School Parking lot System in Big Pine and all the residential systems on the homes.
    (2) Feed-inTariff Generation for local distribution. This would be a system such as the Munro Project where there is little or no consumption on site of the energy generation. The word distribution becomes a verb and the energy is distributed and consumed in the locale of the Project.
    (3) Industrial Scale PV Projects such as the proposed SOVSRP or the proposed Northland Project or the under construction Beacon Project in Cantil would be interconnected to the Transmission Lines ,the energy transported and utilized in distant urban centers.

    These 3 catgories are not official , in fact, the Draft DRECP in it’s Glossary of Terms defines Distributed Generation in loose terms that have a 20 MW limit and there is no catagory for projects defined for residense and business systems who consume the energy generated on-site.
    The RPS , the Renewable Portfolio Standard which is the mandate for California’s goal /requirement of 33 % of it’s energy generation to be renewable includes these residential and business projects in that 33% total. There is a failure to include a Glossary of Terms distinction between these 3 catagories offered in the DRECP draft EIR.
    The new Inyo REGPA Policy Overlay has a up to a 20 MW limit . The Supes commented during the Munro hearing that they are giving Inyo County ” WHAT WE HAVE ASKED FOR” in approving Munro. Munroe is 4 Mega Watts. Those 4 MW’s are to be for local use. The lands are described as being degraded. However hardly anyone asked for a 20 MW Policy overlay for the entire Inyo County. The one who did moved . 20 MW is defined on Industry Websites as “Utility Scale “. Participants like me in the ongoing REGPA Process want renewable energy. Most would love a system on their home, if they could afford it. They do want a positive Inyo County policy to deal with carbon footprints,Global warming but do not at this time want to cover any 120 acre site in Inyo County with 20 MW projects. We are fortunate in the Eastern Sierra, thanks to hydro , geo thermal and true “Distributed Generation” of energy to be already in compliance with the RPS 33% requirement .
    The meetings for the Inyo County REGPA are approaching . The Draft Documents have been released and I hope that this lengthy comment helps all to realize a need to establish a common ,concise understanding of a Glossary of Terms for the dicussions , the public comments and the considered decisions made eventually by our BoS . No one wants to see a REGPA based on a mistaken or misunderstood concept or word . Munro has given us a real world vision of the process and we could and should utilize the lessons already learned .


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