San Bernardino County's
Planning Department & Commission
Demonstrates Their Ineptness

      San Bernardino County Planning Commission in session at the Board of Supervisors' meeting chambers on October 17, 2013.

Planning Commission members
unwilling to embrace valid solar input.

October 26, 2013

Planning Commission's public hearing on solar is a contrived sham.

•  Editorial  •

      The county's Land Use Services Department's proposed modifications for solar energy zoning codes that are being developed under the solar moratorium was presented before the San Bernardino county's Planning Commission for public hearing and possible approval.

      The hearing on October 17, 2013, was held in the Board of Supervisors' Covington Chambers at the county's headquarters on Arrowhead Avenue in the city of San Bernardino.

      The hearing was linked via video to Hesperia and Joshua Tree to allow public input from those distant sites.

Community Alliance presentation.

      During the hearing on the proposed solar amendments to Chapters 84.29 (Renewable Energy Generation Facilities) and 810.01 (definitions of the Development Code), the Newberry Springs Community Alliance representative was the only public member to speak at the San Bernardino location.

      He highlighted six of seven recommendations contained in a letter previously forwarded to the Planning Commission from the Community Alliance.  The seventh issue in the letter was recognized by Terri Rahhal, county Planning Director, at the start of the hearing in her introduction, and will be adopted into the draft.  That issue dealt with local Community Service Districts being notified of solar applications being filed before the county.

Many speakers provided valuable ideas.

      Other speakers included two via video from Hesperia and a dozen from Joshua Tree.  Nearly all of the speakers requested that due to the importance and the major impact of the solar amendments, that the proposed draft be returned by the commissioners to Planning for the public's requested refinements and additions.

      None of the speakers spoke against the concept of the proposal; generally stating excitement that the county's Planning Division had submitted a good initial draft; but the speakers pointed out a number of deficiencies in the draft.

Inclusion of Rural Living zoning overhelmingly disliked.

      One major concern that most speakers addressed is the inclusion of commercial solar facilities being placed in Rural Living (RL) zones.  The speakers clearly expressed that industrial-type solar facilities have no place in residential zoned neighborhoods.

      Another major problem noted by a couple of the speakers is that the draft is littered with ambiguous operational terminology that leaves the draft wide open to challenges of subjective interpretation.  The terminology is far from the necessity of being legally concise.

Undefined, open-ended terminology.

      Undefined terminology such as less desireable, less environmentally sensitive, significant effect, appropriate, desirability, sufficiently separated, sufficiently small size, sufficiently screened, adversely affect, minimize, unobtrusive, not detract, proximity, significant degree, substantial, and substantially impair are some of the subjective terms that the draft depends upon, that are dependent upon one's point of view as to what is actually meant.

Proposal does not adequately protect the national parks.

      Seth Shteir of the National Parks Conservation Association spoke of the desert's annual 3-million visitors to the national parks, their experience of wildnerness and open vistas and how the draft does not adequately protect the national parks in the county that in 2010 stimulated over $100-million in tourism expenditures.

Planning Commission vote.

      Upon the public speakers providing a wealth of suggestions on how the draft proposal could be improved, the Planning Commission appeared dumbfounded as to what to do next.  In consulting with Terri Rahhal, who was present throughout the hearing, the Planning Director advised the Commission of their options; however, she pushed her self-serving interest in having her submitted draft forwarded, as is, to the Board of Supervisors.

No professional pride to get it right.

      Terri Rahhal's desire to push her draft to the Board of Supervisors in such a messy state, with so much valid public input missing, was pure sloppiness.  If Rahhal had any pride in her work, she would have withdrawn the draft upon hearing of the public's valid comments; and she would have made the corrections.  Instead, she has forced a substandard draft, without public consensus, before the Board of Supervisors who will have to endure the repeat performance of citizens who will once again have to return to present their valid suggestions to hopefully have the county wake-up.

The commissioners.

      Each county Supervisor appoints one member of the Planning Commission.  Every member of the Planning Commission demonstrated a lack of capacity to fulfill the duty called upon them.

      As for the Planning Commissioners, they only appeared anxious to do something to end the meeting and go home.  How any of these lame excuses of a public representative got appointed is highly questionable.  What they demonstrated on October 17 (not only on the solar issue but also on a previous Big Bear issue) was a deplorable detachment to public service and public due process.

      Comments made by the commissioners prior to their vote were as though they were not even listening to the public speakers.  They were unresponsive to all of the public suggestions made.

      Third District's Supervisor James Ramos' appointed Commissioner, Paul Smith, read a list of desert statistics that he had acquired from a number of stories that he had read at; but he joined the other desert commissioner, Randolph Coleman of the First District, and the other commissioners in kissing-up to Terri Rahhal by approving the draft, as is, for submission to the Board.

The Planning Commission hearings are a public sham.

      For the concerned public who spent hours studying the draft and preparing their presentation, and driving to a hearing site, and who had to wait for an overextended time for prior agenda items, the hearing was another example of how San Bernardino County's government doesn't work; and how those in appointed positions are so inept and connected with county staff that public benefit is often lost to indifference and the convenience of staff expediency.

      The solar draft that the commissioners voted to accept and forward for Board approval is loaded with ambiguous terminology and lacks public consensus.


      County Planning Director Terri Rahhal has screwed-up on this solar code enhancement.  Starting out with a good draft, largely done by an outside consultant, the public has identified omissions, errors, and recommended some excellent suggestions to take the draft from a good start to a great finish.

      Unfortunately, Rahhal has shown a lack of pride in making her presentation better.  Rather than acknowledging that the draft should be much better and taking the draft back for further development; Rahhal has rushed it forward upon a lame commission that doesn't mind sending an untidy, incomplete proposal to the Board of Supervisors to handle the mess of unhappy constituents that will be still trying to have the solar code amendments done right.

Planning Commission agenda - October 17, 2013. - (PDF - 3 pages)

Related past blog:

County solar workshop.

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