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Local editorial

Keep it simple Citizen involvement in land-use issues is up to local governments

Call it the modern malaise: We work too much, play too much, spend too much time scurrying from one appointment to another or from one kid's soccer match to the other's volleyball game. We are simply out of time.

So it comes as no surprise to us that local governments are having trouble engaging the citizenry in planning issues. A recent report released by the state Land Conservation and Development Commission gave Jackson County a near-the-bottom-of-the-barrel score on citizen involvement and noted that only five of 36 counties in Oregon earned better than a 50 percent grade.

Jackson County's rating ' — out of a possible 10 ' is disturbing and county officials readily acknowledge that they should do more to get area residents involved in discussions about local land-use issues. To their credit, they have developed a proposal to encourage citizen involvement.

That pleases the League of Women Voters, which has taken on a project of assessing citizen involvement for all local governments. The League rightly notes that participation by citizens is required by the state's governing land-use rules and that government operates best when it includes citizens in an open process. The current state of affairs in many Oregon counties, including Jackson County, violates both the law and the spirit of the law and must be addressed.

But will the new proposal accomplish that? We have our doubts. Consider some of the proposal's main points:

Creation of an independent Committee for Citizen Involvement (CCI), which would report to the county Board of Commissioners.

Annual evaluations by the CCI on citizen involvement.

Providing educational opportunities for area residents regarding land-use planning.

Providing more information about land-use issues and decisions made by the commissioners or the Planning Commission.

Sorry, but that's not exactly the kind of marketing strategy that will cause most folks to turn off Jeopardy and rush out to the nearest Planning Commission meeting.

While filled with good intentions, there's not much in the 3&

189; -page proposal that suggests this will open the floodgates of citizen involvement. We don't mean to make light of any of the above points or the proposal itself ' in fact, we applaud the effort ' but wonder how it will truly make a difference.

The brutal truth is that land-use planning is complex and, often, not very interesting. Equally true is that the rules developed in that boring and cumbersome process can have a great impact on your life and your neighborhood.

So what's the answer? Perhaps it lies in greater use of the Internet and e-mail, creating on-line forums and discussion groups where time-pressed citizens can discuss the issues without sitting through a long meeting. (That idea works only if planners can be taught to write in plain English, rather than in planner-speak.)

The solution also lies in simplifying a process that is so completely complex now that even planning experts confess they can't keep track of it all. The state Legislature has acknowledged that by creating a task force to review the state's land-use laws from top to bottom. We would be very surprised if simplification of the system isn't the main recommendation of the task force.

Citizens will engage when they understand an issue and understand how it affects them. To accomplish that, local and state governments must simplify the process, the message and the means of delivering the message.