The Board spent over an hour debating a variety of topics such as the term length for RPAC members, the possible conflict of interest of Supervisors or other County employees who also serve on RPACs, and unifying the structure of all the RPACs. In the end, the Board didn’t direct County staff to change anything about the RPAC system. “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it,” concluded Supervisor Fred Stump. And most of the Board agreed with him.
RPACs make recommendations to the Board of Supervisors, along with the Planning Commission and Planning Divisions, about the Mono County General Plan based on the interest of their communities.
“Community citizen-based planning is what we are trying to get at,” said Mono County Community Development Director Scott Burns.
The RPAC system began with the establishment of the June Lake Community Advisory Committee in 1985. The other six active RPACs (Antelope Valley, Bridgeport Valley, Mono Basin, Long Valley, Chalfant, and Benton/Hammil) were established in 1988. Wheeler Crest and Paradise also hold periodic community meetings.
County Staff provides support for the RPACs and may bring projects or General Plan amendments to the meetings for RPAC input. RPACs also discuss any issues that are of concern to their communities.
The General Plan is a long-term document and the RPACS provide a “pretty potent function,” in that they are “recommending policy, which will influence projects down the road,” said Burns. RPAC members are appointed and any formal recommendations given to the County must reflect a consensus of the RPAC members.
Burns explained that RPAC workshops occur every few years to check in on how the RPACs are operating and whether there are any Board comments about adjustments that might need to be made.
Board Chair Larry Johnston led the discussion at Tuesday’s meeting. “We have some RPACs that have gone astray,” he said.
Johnston raised concerns about the South County RPACs, which don’t have the formal structure of some of their North County counterparts, and the Antelope Valley RPAC, which appoints members without a specified term length and has allowed Supervisor Tim Fesko to remain a member even though he is also a member of the Mono County Board.
Johnston also suggested that Mono County employees shouldn’t be on RPACs: “there are inherent conflicts …they will be recommending on items that they are working on as staff,” he said.
The other Supervisors then weighed in on Johnston’ concerns.
Supervisor Fesko was the first, but not the last, to point out that RPACs are merely advisory committees and cannot direct County staff or implement any policies. He also defended his position as an Antelope Valley RPAC member, saying that after his inauguration as a Supervisor, “In January of 2013 I went to the Antelope Valley RPAC with my resignation in hand. There was a unanimous vote not to accept it. I am doing the will of the people who I am to serve.”
Although Supervisors Stump and Tim Alpers both admitted that they would not sit on an RPAC in their district, they defended the current RPAC system. “These people have a commitment to serve,” Alpers said. “I don’t want to do anything to discourage participation and I’m not ready to put more restrictions on these communities.”
Supervisor Stump spoke up for his constituents in the South County RPACS: “They don’t want a formal structure,” he said. “They like having community meetings. They have a right to define it and they have a right to staff support. They have the right without being micro-managed from this chamber.”
“These are volunteers who spend their time month after month, year after year. And this is a slap in the face to some extent,” Fesko argued before trying to open up the meeting to staff and public comment.
But Supervisor Johnston stepped in: “Excuse me, I’ll run the meeting Mr. Vice-Chair.”
“Okay, Mr. Chair,” Fesko said.
“I don’t think it’s broken,” Stump said of the current system. That system “empowers communities to do business the way they choose to do business. People feel best about their government when they are included and consulted.”
Although Supervisor Byng Hunt does not directly interact with RPACs, he said, “They are proving to be very effective in bubbling issues to the surface. And remember, RPAC is the bottom rung of the planning process. But it’s the input we have and we need to keep that open to anyone.”
After talking in circles around the same issues and hearing from two Antelope Valley RPAC members, Johnson conceded, “I don’t have a consensus. We’ll stick with what we have.”