Tuesday, July 01, 2008

‘Controlled growth’ is meaningless term

‘Controlled growth’ is meaningless term

By Sam Bhagwat
of the Valley Mirror

Interviewed in January about re-election, supervisor John Amaro said economic development would be on his platform. “My biggest interest is growth of the county and being part of that,” he said. “Keeping the rural way of life while keeping job opportunities.”

“I feel like agriculture is a big part of Glenn County, but planned growth is a part too,” said recent supervisor candidate Bill Payer in March.

add details from your interviews if you would like.

If those statements seem well-meaning but, well, meaningless, that’s because they are.

What exactly does agriculture with planned growth mean? About the same as a rural way of life with job opportunities” – very little. I’m for agriculture means something. So does I’m for creating job opportunities or I’m for encouraging growth.

In Glenn County, the two are usually opposed. So when you put the yin and the yang together, you’ve got a whole spectrum of options, and the precise meaning is very hard to nail down.

But don’t be too hard on Mr. Payer or Mr. Amaro. The problem is endemic, afflicting experienced politicians with many more whiskers on their cheek.

“I’m for controlled growth,” says former supervisor and rancher Dick Mudd. Growth, he said, should not be detrimental to society or to the landscape.

“I’d hate this area developing like LA,” said former Willows city councilman Matt Wiest. “I thought if we could control it” development would be good.

“We need any kind of growth we can get,” says former Willows city manager Russ Melquist, before quickly adding: “Good growth. Good development.”

Jamison Watts, the head of a land trust helping farmers obtain easements keeping land in farming, says he’s not anti-development, he’s for controlled development.

“The object of (the program) is not to block development,” he says. “The last thing we want to do is get in the way of county and city planning department. (It’s) just one way to protect farmland for future generations.”

There’s a convergence towards meaningless language here. One is in a world where, as a Alice Through the Looking Glass character put it, that “when I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less."

Mr. Watts helps farmer get subsidies for destroying the rights to develop their land.

Mr. Mudd is a former supervisor who was instrumental in bringing Thunderhill here in 1992, but vocally opposed to a proposed prison in 1985, and refers to a coal plant proposed in 1978 as “one of the things we jumped up and shot down.”

“It was going to be a disruption,” said Mr. Mudd. “You’re going to be overrun. You’d have to have a monstrous pile to put the coals. The railroad (coming through.)”

“Whenever you come and build up coal plants, prisons,” Mr. Mudd said, “a lot of us think, the minute you cover up this property, you better have a darn good reason.

Mr. Wiest who moved here from Southern California in 1959 and ran for council shortly thereafter. When this reporter mentions Mr. Wiest’s positions, rancher and former supervisor Dave Soeth, says that sometimes, people come from L. A. and “want to make Glenn County like where they came from.”

Though Mr. Soeth emphasizes he doesn’t really know Mr. Wiest, the pro-development shoe definitely fits.

Mr. Wiest was key in bringing Johns-Manville here, outspoken in favor of both the coal plant and prison, and growth in general. On the coal plant, he engaged in a very public debate with supervisor and opponent Jean Rumiano, and was accused of being a PG&E stooge.

On the prison, he remembers losing the friendship of farmer and opponent Tom Ratliff. In the midst of the debate, he began a letter to the editor with the remark “my friends have asked me – all two of them,” continued by calling some opponents’ claims ‘more garbage’ and ending by sarcastically offering to bet all of Tom Ratliff’s money that no prison would come to Glenn County even if a study was approved.

Mr. Melquist seems mildly wistful that the coal plant didn’t end up here, before concluding it probably was a good thing after all, because “coal was probably not the place to look for energy. “And though he recalls strong opposition to the proposed prison, he says he personally thought it would have been good for the county.

The group runs the spectrum from pro- to anti-development. All except Mr. Watts have a long and extensive involvement.

And yet, when they put forth their general positions, you can barely tell which belongs to whom.

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