The Delta Stewardship Council staff released a Draft of a Public Participation Plan at the Council’s February 27, 2020 meeting. But the plan has no provisions for consideration of the coronavirus crisis or any other emergency or major disaster in the DSC’s public engagement processes. When we asked for an extension of time to comment on the Draft Public Participation Plan, a staff person refused, stating
We appreciate your desire to comment on the Plan but, with the final Plan being presented at the April Council meeting, we can not extend the deadline.
If you are unable to provide comments before the deadline, there will be a final opportunity to comment when it is presented at the Council meeting on April 30. You can do so either during the Council meeting or beforehand via email.
This response shows a failure at all levels of the Delta Stewardship Council to consider the very real impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on Delta residents, Delta businesses, and Delta communities. And it shows that without clear guidance in the DSC’s Public Participation Plan, the DSC will simply fail to provide any real accommodation or flexibility in deadlines during major disasters.
What would the Council do during and after other major disasters, such as a major flood on the Sacramento or San Joaquin River, or a major earthquake in the Bay Area? Making meetings accessible via internet does not address the public’s lack of capacity to participate.
While the Governor’s Executive Order EO-N-29-20 provided that state agencies could meet the open meeting requirements of the Bagley-Keene Act through teleconferencing, it did not mandate that agencies simply continue business-as-usual during a major disaster. In interpreting this order, the DSC should consider that the stated purpose was to allow agencies address the COVID-19 pandemic:
WHEREAS under the provisions of Government Code section 8571, I find that strict compliance with various statutes and regulations specified in this order would prevent, hinder, or delay appropriate actions to prevent and mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We argue that the stated purpose was not for state agencies to mindlessly continue public outreach processes during the COVID-19 crisis.
The Delta Stewardship Council should take this opportunity to revise and recirculate the Draft Delta Public Participation Plan to address appropriate public outreach during the COVID-19 crisis and other potential major disasters and public emergencies.
Read our letter here.