Also serving the communities of De Luz, Rainbow, Camp Pendleton, Pala and Pauma

DPLU seeks alternatives to community planning groups - FCPG recommends DPLU open stations throughout unincorporated county areas

The San Diego County’s Department for Planning and Land Use (DPLU) has recently asked the various planning groups throughout the county’s unincorporated communities to help list suggestions of alternatives that will help the county remove some of the liability the planning groups have.

According to Gig Conaughton, a representative for DPLU, the county began investigating in finding alternatives after the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) ruled in January that all community advisory figures, including those that are on planning groups, are to be considered public figures.

“This caused the county to re-examine the county’s liability in regards to the group,” said Conaughton. “The feeling was that these public figures would be subject to fines and criminal complaints in cases of Brown Act violations, just as any elected official would be. If criminal complaints were to come against a group member, the county would be liable for defending the advisory group member.”

The DPLU was directed by the county’s board of supervisors to find ways to reduce this liability, said Conaughton. This does not mean that the groups are to be removed, however.

Conaughton also stated that there might have been “circumstances” in which the Brown Act may have been violated. To prevent this, the DPLU provides education to insure there are no Brown Act violations.

According to Jack Wood, a member of the FCPG member, in the past decade, there have only been three cases throughout the entire San Diego County in which the Brown Act may have been violated.

“The resulting fees were approximately $58,000,” said Wood, who added that the county spends $375,000 annually on legal support.

“In some of the planning meetings, some of the group members may have come to understand that the county was trying to disband the planning groups. This is not the case,” clarified Conaughton. “We value the planning advisory groups, and their work helps us with the county’s annual general plan update. There are 26 advisory groups throughout the county. We would not be able to provide the services we could without them.”

“It’s a very complex issue,” said Anne Burdick, a FCPG member. “Nobody [who attended the DPLU meeting] seemed to agree on what the county’s thoughts are in regards to the future of all planning groups. The county has to look at carefully at this serious issue. The planning groups help the county serve its various communities best; we are able to generate local information that the county wouldn’t have otherwise.

Burdick believes the county’s concern lies more with the group members’ individual actions, as opposed to the groups themselves. However, others believe that the county’s decision may cause unincorporated areas to lose their only real representation with the county.

“Other members of planning groups felt that the county’s purpose it to do away with the groups, but I didn’t come away from the meeting with that feeling at all. The DPLU really wants to protect the county from actions that individuals might take.”

The alternatives being considered by the county include putting non-profit groups into place to help the planning groups with their tasks.

“We held a meeting with the planning advisory groups’ chairmen for feedback, but our department will not begin to work on this process until after the first of the year, which is when the general plan is updated,” said Conaughton. “This isn’t something we are actively investigating at the moment.”

The Fallbrook Community Planning Group (FCPG) discussed options for the county at its board meeting last month. According to members of the FCPG, one option that could complement the advisory groups would be to have a local representation of the DPLU in each unincorporated community.

“However, having to rent space and staff each office in the 26 communities would be very expensive,” said Wood.

Burdick stated that the FCPG has reported its ideas and recommendations back to the DPLU. Upon receiving the recommendations from the various groups, the county board of supervisors will look at the final recommendations from DPLU and make a final decision.

Because it’s a legal issue, it is hard to know where what decision the supervisors will end up making,” said Burdick.

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