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Plambeck: Commissioners must ask the hard questions

Posted: July 11, 2012 6:26 p.m.
Updated: July 11, 2012 6:26 p.m.
 

Congrats to Diane Trautman — and to all of us.

Last night the Santa Clarita City Council voted unanimously to support Councilman TimBen Boydston’s recommendation to re-appoint Trautman to the city Planning Commission. Thank you, TimBen. We are all so glad to have her back.

I once calculated the amount of time necessary to adequately prepare for a Planning Commission meeting at 20 to 30 hours per week. This includes reading an oft-hefty agenda packet, as well as familiarizing oneself with lengthy environmental documents.

Additionally, time is needed to understand the legal framework of zoning and planning laws under which our community operates.

Such a commitment of time is daunting.

Instead of spending the time needed to prepare, some commissioners may merely glance over materials and may rarely read the accompanying environmental documents.

They may tend to look at the pretty illustrations provided by the developer showing how a future project is supposed to look instead of doing the hard work of reading the Environmental Impact Report.

They may decide whether a project is good or bad on gut feelings rather than asking hard questions and evaluating the answers.

Developers know this. A “pretty book” is a standard submission to most commissions.

Without commissioners who will roll up their sleeves and do the hard work of digging into the flood, water, biology or public hazard sections of an environmental document, it is impossible to know what the impacts of a project may really be on our community. It is also impossible to propose changes to address or lessen these impacts.

The public can and should help commissioners with the planning process by reading these materials too. It is our job to bring areas of concern to the commission’s attention.

In fact, this is the whole purpose of the California Environmental Quality Act, also known as CEQA.

By requiring an environmental impact report for large projects, our state has given commissions a tool they can use to carefully weigh the needs and benefits of a proposal against the effects on the environment and quality of life that will occur if the project is approved. It is also the tool they can use to require “mitigation” — tactics to reduce or eliminate unwanted effects.

CEQA works best to improve projects with a planning commission that does its homework, a public that participates in the process, and commissioners who listen to the public’s concerns and act on them.

That’s why we are so glad to have Diane Trautman back. She reads, she listens and she asks the necessary hard questions. Then she makes recommendations for improvement.

Trautman’s skill, knowledge, concern for the environment, and her diplomacy, were greatly appreciated in the past by both the members of the public and her fellow commissioners.

Her two-year hiatus from the Planning Commission as a result of a question over term limits left many feeling that public concerns were going unaddressed.

That’s not to say that Trautman always voted the way we would have hoped during her previous service on the commission, or that she will do that in the future.

We just know she will do her best to fairly address everyone’s issues and that she cares about the environment and our quality of life.

Welcome back, Diane.

Lynne Plambeck is a Santa Clarita Valley resident and president of Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment.

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