24 November 2010: CRMP RIP – Pt. III

CRMP should RIP

(Third in a series: Clear Creek, a Sustainable Community)

Since the 1886 Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company decision, corporations have been considered “persons” with chilling consequences for our political process. Whether the decision actually says that is a source of debate. Thom Hartman argues the interpretation can be traced to J. C. Bancroft Davis, a former president of Newburgh and New York Railway Co.

Facts be damned; the rest is preserved history.

As a student of history, my beef with what has become faddish over the past half century—historical preservation—is that it is not about the nitty-gritty reality of the past. Like sanitized pabulum served up in student history books and foisted upon an unwitting and usually unquestioning audience, what is passed off at historical sites is meaningless to true lovers of history.

Nevertheless, there is a market of eager tourists, often geriatric AAA members, that enjoy traveling to preserved locales and immersing themselves into local lore, a form of mental comfort food. Because of that, there are assumptions about economic benefits of historical preservation. If only there were hard evidence to support them.

Over the past year and a half, the issue of the Cultural Resource Management Plan was been a source of considerable contention. Back on April 7, I wrote about it, arguing there is a link between the birth of the CRMP and efforts to prevent a wind farm from being placed atop the heights above Georgetown. For evidence, I pointed to the way the committee was named and to the direction the committee was heading, quoting from official minutes:

“Mr. Cushman working with the steering committee suggested the following lists of threats: natural; industrial — wind, solar and mining; recreation; present zoning; and transportation.”

Cushman “led the group through the planning exercise to identify historic preservation goals”…since there is “a lack of countywide constituency for historical preservation” and “the political will to address the historical preservation needs of the county.”

In other words, the larger county has chosen not to follow the Georgetown model.

At the October 28 Steering Committee meeting, David Cushman, the hired consultant from the SRI Foundation, put any doubt to rest when he confirmed the final document to be presented to the Board of Commissioners on December 15 by the Steering Committee is “in favor of historical preservation.”

“I am,” he said, “a historical preservation professional.” Duh!

Cushman offered several options with corresponding tasks for the SC to consider, only two of which, according to Trent Hyatt of the Land Use Division, the SC will recommend: continuing and refining the cultural resource inventory process and assigning Cultural Resources Plan oversight and integration to the Planning Department. Specifically, the PD would be tasked with possibly upgrading the County’s Master Plan, monitoring historic preservation agreements like the I-70 Programmatic Agreement, and continuing assessment of state and federal projects.

To the SC’s credit, apparently other more controversial options suggested by Cushman including creating economic benefit through Heritage Tourism, promoting and encouraging historical preservation, and establishing an educational outreach program are stillborn.

Nevertheless, one wonders if even a tamped-down version is too much.

Georgetown Selectman Mary Pat Young, speaking at the October 28 SC meeting, suggested the whole document simply be scrapped.

“It creates one more layer in the process,” she argues, “to the detriment of potential business development.”

What Young’s statement hints at is the deep distrust of and distaste for the entire process by the business community and property owners, especially those of lands that have been identified, willy-nilly oftentimes, as containing sites with what are euphemistically called cultural resources. There is fear that even in a more benign form the document if kept on life support will be revived down the road.

From conversations I have had with Jo Ann Sorensen, Land Use Director, and Hyatt, I believe they and other staff are genuine about positive motives behind the CRMP. But with a flawed process from the start and knowing that precedents and other seemingly innocuous documents have a shelf-life well beyond the years of the people creating them, moving forward with the CRMP even in a scaled-down version will only add to the understandable consternation of those impacted by its potential power.

The county would be well-served if the BoCC simply thanked the CRMP SC for its work and send the CRMP to the dustbin of history, or in 21st century lingo: to the shredder. No need for its preservation.

Doing so would not, one would think, prevent the Planning Department from performing tasks the SC recommends but without official directive. In other words, stay in the information gathering business and leave policy out of it.

In the end, there is one historical precedent that would be most fitting for the CRMP, an acronym etched upon many a cultural resource across the West: RIP.

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