Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Yolo County Supervisors stand behind the Yolo Habitat Conservancy

The Yolo County Board of Supervisors are standing behind the Yolo Habitat Conservancy despite a scathing Grand Jury report issued earlier this year.
Recently the Grand Jury — an independent watchdog convened to review the operations of city and county government as well as other tax supported agencies — released the report, “Yolo Habitat Conservancy : A Never Ending Story.” The document detailed the agency’s allegedly checkered past, recent efforts to implement safeguards, the state of its current operations, and recommendations for improvement.
The Conservancy is a Joint Powers Agency that was formed in 2002 to prepare the Yolo Habitat Conservation Plan/Natural Community Conservation Plan and the Yolo Local Conservation Plan. These policies are intended to establish a framework to protect, enhance, and restore natural resources across the county while allowing for continued rural and urban development.
The Grand Jury’s recent report argued that the agency’s performance does not justify the time and money spent as a final conservation plan has not been approved despite county efforts that can be traced back to the 1990s. In the YHC’s response, they noted that they have only been in charge of the plan’s formation since 2002 and that similar plans in other counties have taken over a decade to complete. They further stated that the plan is estimated to cost $10.3 million, which is similar to the cost of plans in other counties such as Placer County which has cost $10.5 million over the past 15 years. Yolo Supervisors agreed with the Conservancy’s position and asked that the Grand Jury refer to the Conservancy’s response for explanation.
To get the Conservancy back on track, the Grand Jury recommended that the YHC submit a final plan by April 30, 2017 and receive annual performance audits to measure progress towards this goal. Supervisors agreed with the recommended deadline, as the Conservancy had already adopted a similar timeframe prior to the Grand Jury’s investigation.
Regarding the performance audits, the Conservancy responded that this would be unnecessary. They argued that the YHC’s Board of Directors already evaluates the agency’s budget and schedule each year. They did note, however, that to enhance agency oversight they would consider implementing performance audits or reviews once the plan is in effect which would likely begin in 2018 or developing performance measures around organizational and budget goals adopted by their Board of Directors to be reviewed every six months.
Yolo supervisors also supported the Conservancy on this recommendation and added that the Department of Financial Services had provided input to the YHC in their initial response to the Grand Jury and that the department will continue to be available to the Conservancy as a resource going forward.
County Counsel Phil Pogledich noted after the report was released, “Having been involved as legal adviser to the Conservancy for a decade, the last four years is a night and day difference from the prior several years.”
He went on to say, “From my perspective, the report simply isn’t credible. The report’s major conclusion is that the habitat planning effort isn’t worth the time or the money, but it doesn’t explain why,” he continued. “Nor does it reflect an honest effort by the Grand Jury to understand the complexity of a countywide habitat planning effort covering numerous species. The Grand Jury does not appear to have considered just how much a completed plan will streamline the permitting for public works projects and private development. Put simply, I don’t think the Grand Jury did its homework.”
The Board’s response will be formally approved when they convene on Tuesday and will then be sent along to Judge Paul Richardson and the Yolo County Grand Jury, closing the door on this chapter of the Conservancy’s history and allowing them to focus on the final conservation plan.
The plan’s current draft covers 12 endangered and threatened species and 15 natural communities. The final plan will provide for the conservation of these species in the county, as well as 50-year permits for development activities.
September 10, 2016
Daily Democrat
By Lauren King

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