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County looks gift horse in mouth 

Three county supervisors keep World Heritage Site designation away from these parts

egregious adj : conspicuously and outrageously bad or reprehensible [syn: crying, flagrant, glaring, gross, rank] "a crying shame" "an egregious lie" "flagrant violation of human rights" "a glaring error" "gross ineptitude" "gross injustice" "rank treachery."

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It was a close one, but we dodged a bullet. On March 27, San Luis Obispo County almost made it onto the candidate list for the most prestigious environmental honor in the world, but, thanks to quick thinking and decisive action by the usual three-vote majority on the Board of Supervisors, our fair county was able to turn aside a nomination to designate Carrizo Plain National Monument as a UNESCO World Heritage Site "the Nobel Prize for special places on this planet," as described by Supervisor Jim Patterson, a minority voice.

Because of the extraordinary confluence of cultural, archaeological, and threatened wildlife habitat values that come together in the 250,000 acres of remaining San Joaquin grasslands that comprise the Carrizo Plain, its nomination was, as much as any site can be in the intensely competitive global competition for this honor, a sure thing.

But that can't happen now. The technical support, research attention, and local economic benefits that would have accrued from a successful nomination have been avoided by our county's elected representatives. A spokesman for the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in Illinois says that their World Heritage Site status "is a source of community pride we're surprised by our own satisfaction with the status. We appreciate it as a prized attribute of our area, brag about it, and help promote it, and almost always get positive benefits."

We'll be having none of that nonsense here, thank you.

Let's be clear: There have been worse votes by this board. More damaging votes. Votes that have capriciously overturned sound decisions by the Planning Commission and upheld bad ones nudge/wink violations of our General Plan and Local Coastal Program lip service for affordable housing and smart growth, followed immediately by votes for unaffordable housing and dumb sprawl. These actions rank higher on the scale of real impacts. But the March 27 meeting of the Board of Supervisors was a low-water mark. There has seldom been a more purely egregious vote from this board than the vote to turn down World Heritage Site status for the Carrizo Plain. What should have been, and originally was, a no-brainer item on a consent agenda where one puts official proclamations of Pancake Appreciation Day or proposed accounting changes to shift a few thousand dollars from one county department to another became a two-hour debate.

For two hours, people who did not understand what a World Heritage Site designation meant or deliberately wished to appear to misunderstand voiced their concerns and bespoke their troubled minds. One by one, their concerns were asked and answered:

There's no Environmental Impact Report!

The Bureau of Land Management is preparing a resource management plan and an EIR. Any impacts of World Heritage Site designation would be included in that.

Carrizo will be trampled under by tourists!

No. Carrizo is an hour's drive from SLO and all traditional surrounding spots on the standard tourist itinerary.

What about private property in or around the Monument?!

The designation would apply only within the Monument's boundaries.

It would be another layer of management! By the UN!!

No. There is no management component to WHS designation.

We're up against an April 1 nomination deadline there isn't enough time to weigh all the factors!

Yes, there is. Getting the nomination in by April 1 would act as a place-holder. We would have months after that to ponder and debate the county could withdraw at any time or even refuse the designation if we won.

The answers didn't matter. Supervisor Katcho Achadjian pronounced himself irreparably confused. Supervisor Jerry Lenthall clung grimly to "not enough time." Supervisor Harry Ovitt said it was spinach, and the hell with it. (His quote of the day, regarding conservation of the Carrizo and the lack of necessity for any assistance therein: "We've seen various things happening at those Carrizo Plains and it's still there.") Then they all voted it down because residents expressed "concerns." In dissent, Supervisors Bruce Gibson and Jim Patterson may as well have been shouting down an empty well.

When I was 3, I was fairly certain that monsters lived in my closet on a nightly basis. I did not think to contact the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors and request that closet-monster mitigations be taken under advisement in their decisions and 24-hour floodlighting be installed behind the coat rack in order to address my concerns. Obviously, I missed a bet.

Mr. Ovitt and Mr. Lenthall are standing for reelection next year. At some point in their campaigns, one or both of them are likely to use one of their favorite catch phrases: "Good stewards of the land." When they do, say "Carrizo." Then ask them to explain how they came to believe that it is the role of government to act, or refrain from acting, on the basis of misinformation, and how they came to confuse leadership with the indulgence of ignorance and fear.

Then vote.

Andrew Christie is chapter director of the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club.

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