Life is sweet, life is good! Toby and I are spending September on the Big Island, Hawaii. It’s our fourth year of enjoying a house-sitting opportunity in Waimea, a town in the ranch and farming country, upland from the Kohala Coast.
Our main responsibility to the house owners is care for a big dog. He’s getting up in years, grizzled in the muzzle and slowing down, but still as friendly as ever and eager to play or be petted.
My life is regulated somewhat by Samu’s needs; he’s a very early riser. That dovetails with another consideration: conditions for snorkeling among the reef fish are best in the early morning, before the surface gets choppy and wave action churns up the water, reducing visibility.
This past Sunday I got to Puako and its ancient ‘birthing place’ (a revered site, and a favorite of local swimmers and scuba divers) before 8: nobody around, and everything calm, the water smooth and welcoming. Colorful reef fish are plentiful as soon as you enter the shallows.
I’m not an athletic swimmer, but with fins and a mask I can swim as long as I like. I headed offshore to the point where the reef drops off dramatically, then moved along that boundary for a while, seeing nothing rare or dramatic, just enjoying the panorama. (On my first swim a few days earlier, a handsome young sea turtle glided gracefully across my field of vision.) It’s marvelous, how the sea bears you up, and how swimming out two hundred yards from shore simplifies your life!
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The broad Pacific’s waters and three time zones separate me from Bainbridge. Disengagement from responsibilities and the happenings back there feels good, although my mind remains tethered to home and I feel the tugs from time to time. I can choose what I want to respond to; I’m a free agent.
The Comprehensive Plan update remains on my mind, of course. I won’t be attending either of the Planning Commission meetings (9/11 and 9/25) at which the draft of a Public Participation Plan will be discussed, but I’ve studied the agenda packet prepared for the first meeting. I hope there will be large and diverse audiences for both meetings, prepared to learn from what’s discussed and to add their own opinions to the mix.
The Steering Committee of three City Council and three Planning Commission members have developed a process by which citizens can participate in the Comp Plan review and revision, along with a tentative schedule for different parts of the complicated (and oh-so-important!) project.
Our community as it is now (fragmented, distrustful, anxious, and impatient for changes in the status quo) stands to benefit greatly from the update process, and if we all rise to the challenge before us, we’ll have not only a more accurate and useful Comprehensive Plan, but development regulations in the Municipal Code that support and implement its vision.
In its DRAFT form, the Public Participation Plan provides numerous public occasions for people to weigh in on various issues that will be considered as the update takes shape. Some issues have already been identified, and many more will emerge. No doubt some will be controversial; both God and the devil are in the details.
I had thought that there might be defined roles for citizens in various ‘work groups’: that’s how the first Comp Plan was created, and selected citizen volunteers have played policy-drafting roles in several other planning and regulatory projects, most recently for the SMP update.
This time around, the Steering Committee has proposed something different. If the Participation Plan works as intended, more citizens from the full spectrum of our community will be informed, engaged, and contributing their ideas over the course of this long process.
The Participation Plan identifies the Planning Commission as ‘the steward of the Comprehensive Plan,’ and gives its seven members responsibility for facilitating ‘public listening sessions to hear citizen input on the scope of the update.’
On the basis of these sessions (also called ‘scoping forums’), the Planning Commission will draft amendments to the Comprehensive Plan and a list of potential changes to the Municipal Code. As usual, public hearings will be held on all such amendments before they are voted on and forwarded as recommendations to the City Council.
Throughout the process, the City Council and the Planning Commission will be working together, sometimes hand in glove. The first phase of the review and update process, beginning in October and extending into December, will involve joint meetings of the Council and the Commission ‘to review and consider changes to the overarching Comprensive Plan Vision and Principles.’ (The reference here is to two pages from the Introduction to the current Comp Plan, all of which is available on the COBI website: check it out.) Those meetings will, of course, provide ample opportunities for public comment.
I expect that some concerned citizens will read what I’ve just written, or the more detailed and authoritative description of what’s being proposed on the COBI website (go to the agenda for the 9/11 Planning Commission meeting), and will see the draft Participation Plan as just another instance of COBI’s top-down style of management, frustrating the people’s will.
That’s a risk that the Steering Committee took. I think they did so bravely, and wisely, but they have some explaining to do.
I’m speaking only for myself here, but I feel sure that everyone engaged in the Comp Plan update in their official capacity – Planning Commission and City Council members, plus the City Manager and his staff, the Planning and Public Works Directors and their staffs, plus the City Attorney – knows that they are on trial and answerable to citizens.
We can’t afford to screw up this project. It has to be well managed; the process has to be fair to all concerned; the updated Comprehensive Plan has to be realistic, forward-looking, coherent, and convincing; the project won’t be complete until the Plan’s principles are implemented in development regulations.
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I’ve made several different attempts at a rousing conclusion to this post, and none of them seem right. I’ll just accept my distance from the issues and activities there on Bainbridge, and see what develops out of this month’s meetings, planning to play an active role in October’s joint sessions of the Council and the Planning Commission.