By Deb Murphy
The process of starting a serious dialogue can’t be rushed. That’s one lesson area Tribes are teaching the Inyo County Board of Supervisors. As for the tribes, they’re learning those odd Anglo settlers have managed to tie themselves into policy and procedural knots.
That being said, the consultation policy to meet the requirements of recent state legislation took a significant step forward at Tuesday’s Supervisors’ meeting. The workshop was the fourth of a series that started in September. With each workshop, the conversation became clearer as the misunderstandings from both parties became more defined. That’s progress.
Senate Bill 18 and Assembly Bill 52 require consultation between tribes and the lead agencies on General and Specific Plans as well as on projects requiring the California Environmental Quality Act process.
In 2014, the Big Pine Tribe of the Owens Valley came up with a template within which that consultation could take place. The County’s Planning Department then developed a consultation policy that went beyond the requirements of the legislation to begin a conversation.
The goal of that conversation was individual Memorandums of Understanding between the County and area tribes with more specific guidelines dependent on the needs of each Tribe. Through a combination of Tribal representatives talking and Supervisors listening, that became crystal clear at Tuesday’s meeting.
The workshop started with Planning Director Josh Hart running through the list of issues raised at previous meetings and the County’s response to each. Some suggestions were incorporated into the policy; a few suggestions couldn’t get past restrictions of the Brown Act or would be too cumbersome for a general policy.
Ray Hunter of the Lone Pine Paiute Shoshone Tribe and Barbara Durham of the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe of Death Valley both offered suggestions relevant to their tribes. Chairwoman of the Big Pine Tribe Shannon Romero repeated the need for “tribal-specific policies,” asking that the bulk of the County’s policy be deleted.
Alan Bacock explained her concerns. “You have good intentions now,” he said. “We just want to preserve those good intentions.” Bacock noted that the specifics in the policy were “open to interpretation by future Supervisors.” His example was the use of the verb “shall” related to the individual MOUs. “We don’t want the County to dictate how the tribes relate with the County,” he said.
The Supervisors tried their best to explain the consultation policy was just a baseline, a way to begin the process of those tribal-specific MOUs. But, Supervisor Rick Pucci agreed that the phrase “the MOU shall” come out. “We want this policy to enhance, not limit communications,” he said. “I’ve been (on the Board) for six years and what we’re doing here is the first time we’re really learning from each other. It’s time for us to go to you instead of you coming to us. Once this policy is developed, we can go to you.”
Chairman Jeff Griffiths agreed. “It will be exciting when we get to the next step, when we’re all at the same table.”
County Executive Officer Kevin Carunchio put the dialogue in perspective. “This is the fourth workshop and we’re not that far apart. This policy is to provide clarity and consistency in how we comply with the law. It puts no restraints on the MOUs developed with each Tribe. The County will be held to this policy, not the Tribes.”
With that, it was agreed that Hart go back and work on the draft to reflect the need for a general policy that would lead to specific agreements. The draft will be sent to each Tribe and another workshop scheduled.