San Bernardino County proposes new energy language that ignores input of residents
San Bernardino County Land Use Services has made public its recommended language on renewable energy development that will be presented to the Planning Commission on May 24, and the language bears little resemblance to the section 4.10 language originally proposed for the Renewable Energy Conservation Element in the county's general plan.
The Board of Supervisors had directed Land Use Services to take the 4.10 language to the Planning Commission for its review, and then to bring it back to the board. This directive was given in August, 2017. But Land Use Services held onto the language instead, approving at least one development plan to allow it to proceed, while the language that would have likely halted it, languished in the LUS offices, unseen by the Planning Commission.
The original 4.10 language would strictly limit development of large scale power projects that often scrape bare several miles or more of desert habitat, leaving downwind residents vulnerable to blowing sand and dust (PM-10), refugee wildlife from the site, plummeting property values, and a reduced quality of life. At a community meeting recently, County Planning Director Terri Rahhal explained that the heavily restrictive language was not as restrictive as county residents had wanted, which makes it all the more puzzling that her department is recommending language far less restrictive on development, apparently ignoring the input of taxpayers.
At that meeting, Rahhal also noted that after the public comment period had closed for the 4.10 RECE language for the general plan, she unilaterally made the decision to meet privately with renewable energy companies seeking to build projects in the county. Why they were not bound by the same time limitations for comment on the language as county residents, is unclear, but Rahhal hosted a series of private meetings with developers.
Now, on May 24, Land Use Services will present a much watered-down recommended 4.10 language on renewable energy development in the desert to the Planning Commission. Critics have noted that the recommended alternative is nothing more than what is required of all projects under CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act), essentially rendering the entire process of obtaining public input from county residents useless and ignored, while leaving desert residents to suffer the consequences of miles of development that don't create many permanent jobs, nor generate much in tax revenue for the county.
The new recommended language for the county's RECE in the general plan, is so generic and contradictory to the original language, that it appears to have been written by the industry, replacing protections for residents with attempts to pacify them with PR instead. The LUS-recommended language strikes out protections for communities with community plans, or areas with Rural Living land use districts.
It is clear that Rahhal and LUS has an agenda at play other than the welfare and best interests of desert residents of San Bernardino County. It is clear that industry, voicing their desires in private meetings with Rahhal and LUS after the public was no longer allowed input, has been allowed to substantially influence the language being recommended by Rahhal and LUS for adoption.
This raises ethics questions about the conduct of Rahhal that the Board of Supervisors need to address prior to allowing adoption of 4.10 RECE language. There are just too many questions as to why the concerns and input of county residents have been ignored, why the 4.10 language was allowed to languish for nearly 10 months, why developers were allowed private meetings after the comment period was closed, and why the original 4.10 language has been watered down from what residents didn't find strict enough, to being essentially meaningless.
Read the new proposed 4.10 RECE language for yourself HERE. Note the crossed out sections at the end of the document are the original language.