Letter to the Editor: Need to make the meetings truly public

Hats off to Supervisor Hagwood and others for speaking out about the necessity for safe, remote access to board meetings during a pandemic. And thank you to Plumas News for providing the community a voice during these times. What would we do without you?
There is a feeling that some board members would prefer to conduct county business without prioritizing public comment from everyone who wishes to speak. This gives people the impression that our involvement is not welcome. Is that the case? Not everyone in our County has been vaccinated, has 4-wheel drive, or the time (or money) to travel hours over icy roads to attend county meetings in person. Many lack high speed internet, needed to simply listen to these meetings. I would guess most people in our county fall into one or more of these categories. Overcoming these barriers to participation should be the board’s top priority.
I understand the need to be efficient with the board’s time, and the reluctance to have lengthy, crowded meetings during the COVID pandemic. If anything, this points to a need to run meetings entirely online and by phone as most other counties in California are doing in order to avoid community spread while continuing to provide full transparency and access to county decision making. The board and public should have the time to thoughtfully listen to what everyone has to say without being concerned about spending hours in a closed room with people from outside one’s household, when suitable alternatives (like zoom) exist.
The board meets again this coming Tuesday, Feb. 2nd, at 10 a.m., and if current policy remains the same, dozens of county residents who wish to be heard at this meeting will again be refused that right. We will essentially be shut out. Perhaps the county’s tech department will be directed to sign up for a zoom account before Tuesday’s meeting. If not, e-mails to [email protected] could easily be read at the meeting using existing technology and at no additional cost. This is a method that some other counties provide during their transition to full remote participation. Any further delay is not due to any technical impediment but an intentional choice by the board.
The continuing absence of remote participation at county board meetings is particularly unfair to seniors who have contributed to society their whole lives and who now cannot safely or easily speak during public comment. Many seniors live close to the proposed asphalt mine that adjoins Portola—and they have the most to lose from this ill-conceived project (and from COVID). Imagine working your whole life for your quiet, peaceful home in the woods, and then having your health, property values and quality of life threatened by a planned industrial mine just feet from your home. Then, when you try to get involved in the county process, the board (whose salary you pay for with your property taxes) shuts you out of public meetings. What are they so afraid of?
Perhaps greater awareness of the proposed aggregate mine and asphalt plant—which would dynamite 250 acres of wildlife habitat and open space near the headwaters of the Feather River and right next to Portola. The mountaintop removal mining plan threatens to overwhelm and destroy our rural community, and would rob Eastern Plumas of future prosperity and economic development by destroying the potential growth of recreational tourism. We must not let it happen.
Our voices are valuable. Many people have contacted the county repeatedly requesting remote participation options, and have been told we are free to attend the meeting in person. We all know this is not safe during a pandemic, and many people are not “free” to attend a meeting under these circumstances. The board should stop claiming otherwise. Board Chair Jeff Engel and other supervisors must act swiftly to do what is right and what the law dictates and bring the public back into our county “public” meetings.
Josh Hart