TURNING RIGHT FROM THE WRONG LANE
Abstract:Public involvement and outreach have evolved dramatically over the last ten years. Environmental impact documents and public outreach methods of the early 1990s do not meet the expectations of today's stakeholders. Central Contra Costa Sanitary District (District) in Martinez, California, learned this firsthand when they tried to build a trunk sewer in the year 2000 that was based on environmental documentation and public outreach done by Contra Costa County (County) in the early 1990s. After starting out in the wrong lane, the challenge was to turn public opinion around and construct the initial sewer project and a series of related projects with minimum impact as well as informed consent.
When the District approached the affected neighborhood in January 2000 with a nearly complete design for a trunk sewer through their neighborhood and informed them that construction would start in the spring, there was an immediate sense of frustration. This neighborhood was in an older part of the City of San Ramon (City) and had enjoyed a relatively peaceful existence for many years until development pressures had resulted in a building boom and all the resultant impacts of traffic, crowded schools, and impacted city services. The trunk sewer was just one more indication, in their minds, that their quality of life was being diminished by new upscale developments in other parts of the city. Due to geography and drainage issues, the neighborhood was not in the District service area but was the most direct route connecting the new development to the District's closest existing pumping station. The fact that the residents were not constituents of the District and could not apply any political pressure on District Board members further increased their frustration. This combination of factors appeared to be the final straw and the neighborhood joined together to “Stop the Sewer.” It was a grassroots movement that quickly gained steam and soon District staff found themselves at a series of City Council meetings in front of hundreds of angry citizens explaining the following:
Why was the District building a project through a neighborhood not in their service area?
Why hadn't the community been made aware of this project?
Why hadn't their input been solicited on the routing of the sewer?
Why was the District building a project to benefit a large developer at the expense of a small neighborhood?
While the District provided perfectly logical explanations and answers to all of the residents' questions, emotions had taken hold. The District was not able to gain the confidence of the citizens or the City elected officials and was forced to resort to legal measures to obtain the necessary permits for the needed improvements. The District began a long process of litigation, mediation and—finally—public involvement.
This paper provides a case study of how a difficult situation was turned around through use of a methodology termed the Systematic Development of Informed Consent (SDIC).
Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: 2002-01-01
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