Talking procedure

Supervisors challenge how county expresses priorities in Sacramento, D.C.

Last month, when local jurisdictions began talking about Assembly Bill 430, Butte County Supervisor Tami Ritter’s interest was piqued. She began asking about the county’s stance, and she was told the county didn’t have one, nor had any of her fellow supervisors suggested discussing the measure, which would temporarily remove environmental regulations to spur housing development in Camp Fire-adjacent communities.

So she was surprised—and upset—when she received a copy of a letter written “on behalf of the Butte County Board of Supervisors” expressing support for AB 430. It was addressed to Assemblyman James Gallagher, co-author of the bill, and signed by board Chair Steve Lambert. A second letter came across her desk in the same manner last week. It opposes AB 1356, which relates to cannabis sales.

“We should do the public’s work in the public eye,” she told the CN&R.

Bruce Alpert, county counsel, apparently agrees. He told the board as much at its meeting Tuesday (May 21): “We’re on the verge of [committing] Brown Act violations. If the board is sending a letter, it needs to come before the board, in open session. That’s a little more structured than we’ve been in the past, but it’s prudent for us to do that.” He elaborated that, should there be a need to act swiftly—because of last-minute amendments and the like—that county Chief Administrative Officer Shari McCracken could pen a letter and sign it herself, but not on behalf of the board.

Tuesday’s discussion on the topic came in the context of the county’s legislative platform, a set of documents outlining priorities and stances on topics ranging from agriculture to cannabis meant to steer lobbying efforts in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. The platform typically is discussed in the fall, before the legislative session begins, but the Camp Fire pushed that discussion back. An outline was prepared in December and the panel approved the documents in February, though newbie Supervisors Ritter and Debra Lucero expressed frustration at the process, which they argued lacks breadth and transparency.

“This process has not been clear. When we went through this in February, it was kind of like, ‘This is what we have, let’s stamp it,’” Ritter said at the meeting. “It would be helpful to have more detail and to know specifically what I’m supporting—so if there are things in the platform that I don’t support, I know what they are so I can speak on those things. It’s not OK to not know what the county is saying on the county’s behalf. As a commitment to transparency, we need to know.”

Speaking after the meeting, Ritter elaborated that the answers she’s gotten to a lot of procedural questions have been, “This is the way it’s always been done,” and this was no different. She hopes to challenge that mentality.

Paul Yoder, a lobbyist hired by the county to represent its interests at the state Capitol, expressed openness to the idea. Having worked in other counties, including San Diego, he said there’s no one single template for legislative platforms.

“I want to underscore that this is your document. It’s not my document, it’s not Shari’s document,” he explained. “There are a lot of different forms or formats for legislative platforms. Some are so big that they’re actually bound.”

That seemed to strike a nerve with Supervisor Doug Teeter, who expressed several times during the meeting his confidence in the process as it is.

“To me, the legislative platform is what we can generally agree on,” he said. “If it’s something that we don’t like, it’s not something staff is going to write a letter about. I want us to do what we do best and not go overly deep in our legislative platform.”

Lucero snapped back: “It’s not about the end product, it’s about the process and strategizing about what we’re going to do as a county. … I feel like I’m speaking a different language here. Perhaps this county isn’t ready for that kind of strategy and planning.”

McCracken said she’ll look into procedural options before bringing the platform back to the board in the fall.

“The world is changing, and not just because of the Camp Fire,” she said. “Maybe we do it in a workshop and then follow up. That’s one step more than we’ve done in the past.”