Actually looking for input on Critical Areas Ordinance

Managing Editor Gary DeVonHow often do you find yourself saying ‘who came up with that stupid law or regulation?’ And how often do you really get the chance to give input before a government body or agency actually makes those “stupid” rules in the first place?

The answer is probably more often than we think. Our local county and municipalities are always passing new or updated ordinances, but often we just let the hired staff, or in many cases, volunteer boards, do the heavy lifting. After all we’re free to complain about how “stupid” it was later.

Perhaps we could do less complaining and take advantage of the opportunities afforded us by public hearings and share our ideas and concerns before these new rules are passed. A prime example is Oroville’s new Critical Areas Ordinance, no one, outside the staff, came to give comment when it was going through public hearings in front of the Planning Commission and no one came last week when a hearing to consider approval was being held at the city council meeting. We’ve seen many dozens of these public hearings over the years (which are often required before regulations are made or changed) and at very few have we seen someone come to give public testimony – that is other than “staff.”

One such staff member is Chris Branch, Oroville’s director of Economic Development. He was visably and verbally disappointed that no one had a comment about the ordinance. Whereas you might think he’d want the council to just rubber stamp the new ordinance, which feels like it’s been years in the making, he asked them to delay approval for a couple of weeks. He wanted them to review the draft ordinance and perhaps to give people one more chance to voice their comments.

If someone wanted to they could look at the proposals by going to Oroville’s website and see whether they agree with the direction the city is headed. Of course, just because you might not like something in the ordinance, that doesn’t mean the council will vote it down, but it may give the city time to address your concerns. In other cases, the city’s hands might be tied and parts of the ordinance are written the way they are because of state or federal regulations. But the city often has a certain amount of leeway and your ideas for change might be incorporated into the final plan.

Even though we are talking about the Critical Areas Ordinance, this is just an example. We can understand Branch’s consternation – he, like planners, boards, councils and commissioners everywhere, often get frustrated about the lack of input until the regulation has already been passed.

On the other hand, while the Critical Areas Ordinance has had little outside input, many in the county felt frustration after being asked to give their input on the county’s Comprehensive Plan Update. After dozens of meetings and gathering comments from all corners of the county, all that input was apparently put in File 13 because certain groups didn’t like where the Comprehensive Plan was going. We guess that’s okay, it’s only been nearly 50 years since the old ordinance was passed. That must mean sometimes there’s just too much input — maybe it’s better to stay at home and let the boards, councils and staff make all the decisions. After all, we can always say they’re stupid later.