Two controversial subjects have come up in the last couple of weeks on the agendas for the Ventura County Board of Supervisors. On March 27, the supervisors discussed reducing public comment from five minutes to three minutes. Then, on April 10, Supervisors Peter Foy, District 4, and Kelly Long, District 3, proposed to eliminate the right to administratively appeal the issuance of zoning clearances. In the technical jargon of this bureaucratic speak, Foy’s and Long’s proposal would effectively cut off interested parties from appealing projects they don’t agree with. While not specific to oil projects, if passed, environmental groups in particular would have no way to appeal decisions that they feel haven’t been properly vetted or that they just believe were wrong for any reason.
With regard to limiting public comment to three minutes, it’s a curious case indeed when passionate people have to figure out a way to be concise and direct with their concerns. While the supervisors did not choose to limit public comment, it’s important for the public at large to understand that it’s not always what is said that matters, but rather that more people speak up together who share a particular opinion. There is power in numbers, not necessarily in longer arguments. For the time being, perhaps the public should figure out how to limit public comments so that more have a say, rather than so that fewer have longer to speak.
As for excluding the right to appeal the issuance of zoning clearances, Foy and Long argued that the exponential costs to address appeals outweigh the benefits in reversing decisions. While a fair argument to those interested in cutting down taxpayer spending by eliminating staff time spent on addressing those issues, the whole premise of discontinuing discourse over controversial projects, particularly when it comes to oil expansion and development, seems to be short-sighted. Foy, who was the chair of the California chapter for Americans for Prosperity, an organization founded and funded by oil billionaires the Koch brothers, and Long, who received more than $150,000 from the oil industry for her campaign for supervisor in 2016, took a practically predictable route in trying to silence concerned parties. Foy and Long withdrew their proposal last week after receiving significant pushback and resistance from the public and organizations that would lose their footing in a reasonable fight to resist problematic projects.
When it comes to the public getting involved in the way their government runs and how elected officials represent constituents — transparency, discussion and input from more people should always be the standard. Though it can be difficult to wade through bureaucratic language, partaking in the process beyond voting day can be empowering, and elected officials should not attempt to limit it.