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There is a lot of discussion these days about the 1,400 acres known as Camp 4 and what is going to happen to it. I hear a lot of fear and anger at possible plans for hundreds of houses or a full commercial development including a hotel, golf courses, casino, etc. People are concerned about the value of their properties in the Valley when faced with the possibility of increased traffic, crime and permanent disruption to their rural life.

Here we have a group of people who are part of the entitlement generation who have been given homes courtesy of the American taxpayer, millions of dollars and a special status to engage in activities not allowed by any other group of people. That, apparently, is not enough.

Now, with the aid of those millions, they intend to change the look and feel of this beautiful valley to fulfill what they feel is owed them. But who are these people who claim to have been here before any of us? There seems to be some confusion about who they are, where they came from and whether the land they occupy has actually been taken into trust by the federal government. If you are confused about this, you are not alone and some of the answers are revealed in the documents included here.

I see the same behavior in those young people being paid to demonstrate on Wall Street and around other cities in this nation. Unfortunately, I think these people are being used by the unions and other organizers of the radical left who play on the themes of today against the wealthy, oil companies and basically anyone who has been successful.

We all know that the local folk are not alone in this effort. Investors and those who control the strings are the ones who are behind the possible development as they don’t live here, couldn’t care less about the Valley and have nothing to lose. Despite all the lip service about reclaiming ancestral lands and how important Mother Nature and Mother Earth is, I don’t see anybody complaining about the destruction to that beautiful piece of land. Where is the environmental community? Where is the Environmental Defense Center, which claims to have the environment as its chief concern? Where are all those folks who fought against the ranchers and farmers over the oak trees, the illusive steelhead and the resource protection ordinance? Where are they now?

Are you concerned? Did you feel you had accomplished something by all those hours you spent for years hashing out the vision for the future of the Valley? Are you wondering if the Board of Supervisors is now going to stomp on all that thoughtful work? Have you considered the issue of a government-to-government agreement versus the fee to trust issue? They are two quite different actions with two different negative consequences. Do you understand the difference, and can you determine the pros and cons of each? Are you aware that any agreement with another government is only worth how honorable the signers are? It is critical that you understand what is being asked of our local government.

Are you aware of the fact that Caltrans’ motivation for putting a roundabout in the middle of our valley that will prevent, among other things, our fire department from getting out of their driveway is coming from the casino folk? All of the road improvements are designed to make travel to the casino easier and not meant to make the roads safer for the residents.

I would like to make a suggestion, and you can feel free to let me know what you think about it. We have a casino in our midst and until now there has been no legitimate comprehensive study of what the impacts, positive and negative, have been on the Valley so far. I think that might provide some useful information to enable us to make realistic decisions for the future. I think we should categorize those impacts and how to best mitigate them. It makes no sense to me to even consider more development of the magnitude being considered without first understanding where we are currently with regards to land use, environmental impacts, view sheds, infrastructure such as roads, drainage patterns, crime, traffic and actual need for the project.

Plans and the environment

I read this week with interest a commentary by a Goleta Valley resident who was commenting on the plan process that was unfolding on the other side of the hill. I have to say that the comments about how staff kept putting in their own vision rather than the residents’ visions really was a déjà vu experience for me. Having gone through the tortuous years of meetings to form the SY Valley Plan where the views of the residents were systematically ignored, I am disappointed that the county still insists on this charade to fool some into thinking they actually are being listened to. That is very sad to me.

I was lamenting this to a friend the other day and recounted how I first got involved in environmental issues. It was in Pasadena, and it all started with some lady coming by my house wanting me to sign a cat leash law. Since I had just bought my first house with a yard and had three cats, I was determined to see that effort fail. I found out that the lady was connected to the local neighborhood association, so I thought I had better start attending the meetings. Through that, I became acquainted with many of my neighbors and soon became aware of some of the bigger issues facing the city.

One of potential projects I heard about was a proposal to build twin 20-story towers at the intersection of the 210 Freeway and Lake Avenue. If you don’t know Pasadena, this is one of the most congested intersections in the whole city, even before any towers. Because this was a major project by a major developer who had city favor, and the local government was determined to approve it despite some protests, it became evident that some organization was going to be necessary to defeat it. Let me say at the outset that Pasadena has a 10-story height limit.

Over the next few months, I learned about LOS (level of service, referring to how long you have to wait to get through a signalized intersection), view corridors (where if you happen to look at the right spot at the right time, you might see something important like Pasadena’s magnificent City Hall), and setbacks. I also learned a lot about the political process should the local government not be willing to follow the will of the people. While getting better acquainted with my nearby neighbors, many of whom had never even been to City Hall, it became evident that we were going to need more expertise and more people to join our effort.

Neighbors for Open Government was born and included neighborhoods from north, south, east and western parts of the city. These people had never even talked to each other before but they came together for a common cause, that of keeping their city from being overdeveloped. When we started, we all had to learn to keep focused on what our end goal was and to learn to make suggestions to help that along.

We all had to pitch in with time and money to educate each other and to bring that information back to our communities. It became obvious fairly quickly that the local government, Board of Directors in this case, was not interested in representing the local residents but rather were focused on the tax dollars the new project would bring into the city coffers. Mind you, this was in the mid-1980s when the economy was booming. Hearing after hearing, through the Planning Commission to the Board of Directors, the residents after giving increasingly emotional pleas to not destroy the fabric of the city were repeatedly ignored.

As each level passed, people became more and more disillusioned with the process and, at the same time, became more determined to stop this train. We realized that the local government was not going to represent us, so we were forced to look elsewhere to get our point across. We decided that we had to take the issue to the people of Pasadena.

It was August, admittedly the worst month to have to gather signatures to force the board to put the issue to a vote of the people. We all took turns outside every restaurant, grocery store, drugstore or popular gathering spot we could think of. It is required by California law that a certain percentage of registered voters sign a petition in order to put it on the ballot.

In 30 days, we had collected 10,000 validated signatures and brought them to the board, making them set a date for a special election. During the interim, we all canvassed our neighborhoods, explained why we were doing what we were doing and how it affected them personally. We also paid for ads in every local paper we could find. We met frequently to keep us all informed as to what was happening.

On Election Day, we worked just like in a regular election to get the vote out. We went door to door again, shuffled people out of stores to go vote and did everything we could think of to make sure every possible voter cast their choice. Then we waited for the result. It was maddening.

Finally, we all gathered in the Board of Directors’ auditorium to hear the results and to see what they would do next. We won with a resounding victory and the board announced to the developer who was in the room with us that he would have to submit a different application following the height limits and design guidelines already established. He left in tears.

The neighbors were ecstatic, realizing for the first time that they could fight City Hall and win. Yes, it took time and money – but the moral of this story is that if your government isn’t listening to you, you can do something about it if it is important to you. There are many options available, ranging from collecting signatures to putting something on the ballot for the community to vote on, to recall. All you have to do is care enough about your valley and county to make sure your wishes are followed. It just takes us working together. What do you say? Are we worth it?