Another standing-room-only crowd is expected at the County Administrative Center in Independence today – this time as residents gather to witness and weigh in on a presentation from the Inyo County Planning Department on its controversial General Plan amendment.
The last time the center’s meeting room was filled beyond capacity was Feb. 26, as more than 70 residents turned out to express reservations about, objections to and suggestions for how to improve the Renewable Energy General Plan Amendment. It was a meeting that ended in outrage as the commissioners voted 4-1 – over the objections of 31 of 32 speakers – to forward the REGPA to the Board of Supervisors for approval.
Rather than consider approving the REGPA today as originally planned, the board will be hearing the presentation with an anticipated deliberation date of April 1.
If approved as presented, the REGPA will re-zone 14 areas of the county where the Planning Department has decided industrial-scale solar and wind development projects would be appropriate uses for that land. The zoning changes would be reflected in the General Plan – the county’s operations and regulations manual.
Planning Director Josh Hart has defended the REGPA as a proactive attempt to identify these potential development areas – to narrow the focus to a minimal percentage of Inyo County’s lands – before the county receives an expected influx of project requests as utilities attempt to meet the state’s green energy mandates and deadlines.
Opponents have countered that it’s not Inyo County’s job to advertise open land to developers; nor is the issue the amount of acreage involved, but rather the location of these 14 “suitable” areas, which, once developed, will be permanently scarred.
Among those expected to be in attendance today are members and supporters of DeepestValley.com, a website launched in the wake of the Feb. 26 Planning Commission meeting, which left hundreds of residents questioning the state of democracy in Inyo County and whether their input mattered.
“I really didn’t know what else to do; I knew there were many, many people looking for ways to have their voices heard, and if I could be part of helping them do that, I thought that would be a positive step in the right direction,” said website creator and Independence resident Bryan Kostors, who had actually registered the domain name at least a year earlier.
Kostors originally envisioned DeepestValley.com as an online magazine focusing on culture, art, history and the environment, and he said that’s still his ultimate goal. But on Feb. 26, his first priority was helping those who spoke at and submitted testimony for that day’s Planning Commission get their comments out to people who would listen.
“I went immediately home, put a rough website together and made it live,” Kostors said.
Nearly a month later, the site has hosted close to a dozen letters, op-eds and articles – from Planning Commission meeting attendees, community leaders and a wide range of residents and frequent visitors to the area.
Kostors is the lead editor; Rose Masters is editor, contributor and curator; and Mary Roper and Jane McDonald are also curators.
“Obviously, we support conservation, protection and preservation of landscape and culture, so the articles and discussions currently on our site regarding REGPA speak to that position,” Kostors said. “But those involved in the current discussion represent business owners, educators, scientists, tribal members, retirees, ranchers, locals with long-standing family roots, those who recently moved to Inyo County purposefully, and those that live outside Inyo County. It’s important we recognize that our home is incredibly important to countless people all over the world; those people are part of this story, too.”
DeepestValley.com also created a petition that currently has 829 signatures, asking the Board of Supervisors to reject the REGPA to help protect Inyo County and on the basis “that the documentation itself represents unsound logic, invalid arguments to support its claims, and faulty and erroneous policy-making.”
The site is updated daily with news related to the REGPA issue or the closely related Southern Owens Valley Solar Ranch proposed by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
Visitors to the site can also find a point-for-point response to the Planning Commission’s “Frequently Asked Questions” about the REGPA, a tutorial on the REGPA, rebuttals to critics and links to materials about point-of-use renewable energy projects.
While a clearinghouse for valuable information on the REGPA, in some ways, Kostor acknowledged, DeepestValley.com has become more of a movement than a website.
“I know that many people in the Owens Valley and in Inyo County are very concerned about the state of our local government, the outside influence of money and industry and the protection of our home, and I think that certainly qualifies as a movement when these people get together and try to effect change,” he said. “Deepest Valley is just a website in and of itself, but it’s also a place for concerned members of the community to come together for a shared cause, as is the case currently.”
Eventually, Kostors sees Deepest Valley converting to that online magazine he envisioned a year ago. But first thing’s first.
“Right now, our focus is on protecting the open landscapes of the county, in relation to the draft REGPA and its proposals,” Kostors said. “Everyone involved with Deepest Valley will be the first to tell you that renewable solar energy is a wonderful and necessary thing. However, we also believe that it can be effectively used without destroying some of the most important landscapes of our home. Our goal with the REGPA is to make it appropriate for Inyo County …
“I really have no quantifiable way to know if the voices represented on Deepest Valley are the minority or not, nor does anyone else at this point,” Kostors continued. “This is, however, why I’m focusing on the inherent flaws of the REGPA document itself, which has nothing to do with majority or minority. I want to help create a document without such flaws, and I also fully believe a plan can be created that makes use of solar in Inyo County and also protects our open spaces. I realize that going back to the drawing board and coming up with a plan that does this is more difficult than the current path, and means more work. Honestly, I believe any plan that fails to protect our home and fails to establish appropriate use of solar is just lazy, unimaginative and not creative. At its worst, a plan that does not do both of these things very likely is just chasing the money.”
Ultimately, regardless of which side of the solar panel they stand on, Kostors and Deepest Valley hope to arm residents, leaders and visitors with the facts and courage to voice their concerns and make a carefully thought-out decision.
“No one should fear retaliation when they are critical of officials or administrators,” Kostors said. “Critical analysis makes things better, not worse.”
Today’s presentation is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. in the County Administrative Center.