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'County Paying for Past Planning Errors'

June 26, 1988

The Times recently carried a story headed "County Paying for Past Planning Errors" (June 2). As I read the story, I became increasingly angry because of the misleading use of the word planning.

As the story develops, it becomes clear that it was the decision makers (the Board of Supervisors and their appointed Planning Commission) who ignored many of the warnings of their own Planning Department as well as those of a number of citizens' groups.

Ex-Supervisor Bruce Nestande is quoted as saying: "People here want low-rise, low-density construction. They don't want another Los Angeles. But many builders come in here to make quick profits on high-density and just don't care about the problems they leave behind."

Surely a follow-up question was in order here. These profiteers Nestande refers to could not have built anything in county territory without the approval of the Orange County Planning Commission and of the Board of Supervisors who appointed them. Surely Nestande is aware of that.

In the '60s and '70s, Orange County was widely known as having an outstanding Advanced Planning Group, which was headed by Forest Dickason. These trained planning professionals did know about the "linkages between local land-use decisions and their regional effects." They furnished numerous reports to the supervisors and the Planning Commission containing warnings about these linkages.

In addition, the story makes no reference to a series of citizens' committees and commissions that, as early as the late '60s, issued and publicized reports and recommendations relative to problems associated with the patterns of growth being approved by the decision-making bodies.

Still another source of critical documents related to Orange County land-use decisions emanated from the Southern California Assn. of Governments, of which Orange County was a member. Association staff planners sent copies of all of their study documents, including projected growth studies, to the county supervisors.

It seems to me that one function of a story of this kind should be to help clarify in the public mind the distinction between "planners," who are professionally trained advisers to the county decision makers, and the "decision makers" themselves. The planners are responsible for using the best available data and projections, and for making the best recommendations they can based on this information.

The real decision-makers are the elected bodies, the city councils and Board of Supervisors, and their appointed planning commissions. These bodies are directly responsible for the decisions, wise or unwise, and they must shoulder the blame for bad decisions.

It seems clear that the primary purpose of your story was to deflect the responsibility for some of the obvious problems with growth in the county from the supervisors to some nameless "planners" and to these builders who somehow crept in and built bad projects without anyone's knowing about it.



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