In the News

Commentary: LAFCO's water policy good ... for a first draft

By Rachel Carson
Santa Cruz Sentinel, 2/27/11

As a senior at UC Santa Cruz majoring in environmental studies and politics, I am about to enter into the "real world." Here is an insight that comes from my recent engagement with public policy issues in that "real world," here in Santa Cruz County. It can be summed up as follows: "Your first draft should never be your final draft."

In the past few years, I have become involved with a number of organizations, on the UCSC campus and in the community, that have presented me with opportunities to participate in the local political process. On Feb. 2 I attended a meeting of the Local Agency Formation Commission, or LAFCO, during which LAFCO held a public hearing to present, discuss and adopt new water policy guidelines that the commission adapted from San Luis Obispo LAFCO guidelines.

LAFCO's objectives are to encourage effective service areas, guide urban development, and to promote orderly growth in whatever community they have jurisdiction. Although not explicitly stated in LAFCO guidelines, it has become clear to the Santa Cruz LAFCO that water policies should be a component of their guidelines.

I, along with some of my fellow activists and co-workers, read the water policy guidelines and spoke about the new water policies that the commission was preparing to adopt. Mostly, we had positive suggestions to make the guidelines clearer and more effective.

The commission should be commended for their efforts in choosing to adopt water policies. Their actions exemplify the kind of leadership that is sometimes lacking in the political process, and I admire the proactive approach of setting forth water policies to guide future project consideration, rather than having proposed developments and expansion projects that come before LAFCO dictate the commission's water policies.

The commission chose to have more of a general framework for these new water policies rather than a specific set of guidelines, so as not to limit future growth and land planning in the Santa Cruz area. This is an understandable move on the commission's part, considering it is the commission's duty to oversee growth and development.

Although the commission should be applauded for its initial efforts, I would encourage the commission to go through their newly adopted water policies with a fine-toothed comb and rewrite the policies to make them less ambiguous.

These policies should avoid confusion, not create confusion. Terminology used in the policies, such as "sustainable" and "adequate water supply," lose some of their power without any quantitative analysis or data. Powerful and meaty words such as these can get twisted around and manipulated into whatever someone wants them to be.

If there is anything I have learned being an Environmental Studies student, it is to not take broad and open-ended terms such as these at face value. They have multiple definitions, uses, and implications, and the commission needs to clearly define what they mean by them.

Creating clear and decisive definitions of these terms would be helpful for the commission in providing cohesive and consistent decisions concerning water policy and development, for anyone who has to abide by these policies, and for other LAFCOs that look to the Santa Cruz LAFCO as a leader.

For as long as I can remember, I have been taught that you should never turn in your first draft of a paper. I have always been instructed to make corrections, read it out loud, and have it reviewed by others to ensure that I am turning in my finest work.

I believe that what LAFCO has adopted is a wonderful "first draft." However, to be the best that they can be and to provide the clearest possible policies for themselves, the community, and other communities, LAFCO should take more time and continue working on their next draft, to make their water policies stronger, clearer and more effective.

Rachel Carson is a student at UC Santa Cruz.

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