Fresno County is about to update its most important development document for the first time in almost 20 years, and it left residents completely out of the process.
The Fresno County General Plan and Zoning Ordinance defines the county’s economic, land use, transportation, housing and environmental goals and policies for the next 20 years, including where and how we invest tax dollars and what types of development we prioritize. The general plan is the law of the land for development. Referred to as a jurisdiction’s’ “constitution” for planning, all development decisions must be in conformance with the general plan to be valid.
Sounds important, right? It is. When jurisdictions update their general plans they define the values of their community: whether they will privilege industry over air quality, whether they will preserve precious farmland or let sprawl continue to consume it, whether or not recreational spaces and wild areas will remain protected and maintained, whether or not they will encourage the development of affordable housing, and how they will plan for natural disasters, like wildfires and floods.
Jurisdictions ordinarily conduct extensive public campaigns to receive input from the community on a general plan update. We are sure that you, like most residents, have an opinion about whether the county prioritizes affordable housing, clean air, good water management and access to recreational spaces. A good practice is for a jurisdiction to conduct multiple workshops throughout the area asking community members what their priorities are and what type of future they would like to see for development in their region.
Yet Fresno County has conducted no public outreach in the development of their new general plan. Instead, it quietly released approximately 1,500 pages of public documents buried on a side-tab of the Public Works and Planning website in late January 2018 without any publicity, then closed the public comment period a few months later. Unsurprisingly, almost no members of the public submitted comments on the plan because they didn’t know that it existed.
This is bad practice and residents of Fresno County deserve better. The General Plan and Zoning Ordinance update are too important to take place in the shadows. The public has a right to provide input on the future of their community and to participate in the process.
On Tuesday, August 21st, the Fresno County Board of Supervisors will discuss whether additional changes to the draft document are necessary before environmental review begins. This is the board’s opportunity to re-open the general plan process to allow for public input through workshops, surveys, polls, community meetings, or any other number of methods for public participation. The County should re-open the process and make a concerted effort to let residents express their feelings about the future of development in their communities. After all, the general plan is about the future of our community. City officials should listen to the people who live, work and vote here.
Mariah C. Thompson and Tashara Kuspa are co-chairs of the environmental justice subcommittee of the National Lawyers Guild-Central Valley Chapter.