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Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Monday, August 03, 2009

While the MLPA Initiative hasn't quite taken over my life — unlike the poor SOBs who volunteered to be stakeholders, — it certainly has taken over my blog. Here are two news stories that I filed for the July 24 Western Outdoor News that I think are important to read if you want to stay up to date on the process. Things are going to get very interesting starting next week.

Confused about MLPA? Planners promise to make it all clear as process resumes in the South Coast

The Blue Ribbon Task Force and I-Team planners have a lot of explaining to do as the South Coast project of the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative kicks back into gear July 28-29 here in this seaside town.
What better place than what some call the People’s Republic of Santa Monica than to resume a process that presumes to completely close off a huge chunk of the state’s resource to one segment of society in the name of communal good?
The occasion is the latest meeting of the Blue Ribbon Task Force. The last such event drew hundreds of fishermen eager to comment, only to find they were restricted to simple yea or nay on an agenda item that turned out to be much more complex than that.
The BRTF did uphold the results of a stakeholder vote, but amended a recommendation from I-Team planners in such a way as to make clear they expected and would support any efforts to increase the size and scope of fishing closures along the South Coast.
To say that members of the South Coast Regional Stakeholders Group were told to start from scratch would be an exaggeration. To say that everything at this point is up in the air would not.
While forced to adhere to process based on precedent, the BRTF basically stated that any and all ideas regarding fishing closures were valid and stakeholders would be both encouraged and protected if they stepped outside the bounds of the negotiation that took place during the first two rounds.
The big question now is just how the BRTF and the I-Team (MLPAI staff, Concur facilitators and participating members of state agencies like the Department of Fish and Game) will go about changing the process in order to achieve the outcome they have in mind. For those interested in the process and its final resolution, next Tuesday and Wednesday will be intriguing stuff.
Joel Greenberg, a stakeholder representing the Recreational Fishing Alliance, figures the chance to see how it all shakes out is reason enough for the fishing public to attend.  “The public’s input on what they see those two days will be important,” noted Greenberg.
Greenberg and all the other stakeholders have been personally invited by the BRTF to attend. Greenberg has his own ideas of what will happen and what he hopes to get out of the meeting.
“I think the BRTF meeting is intended to clarify a huge number of issues among stakeholders,” said Greenberg. “I would hope they clarify exactly what the process will be as far as the facilitation for our meetings in August.
“There is confusion about the terms the Task Force used at its last
meeting — safe harbor, middle ground and cross interest support,” added Greenberg. “Everyone has their idea of what that means. There should only be one idea of what that means. I think they are prepared to do that.”
Other sources than Greenberg have indicated the stakeholders may be broken up into two groups when they reconvene Aug. 3-4 in Carlsbad. This has prompted some fear among observers that the environmental faction will be given free rein to design a proposal without the inherent checks and balances of a true stakeholder process — a process, by the way, the same folks had no problem with in the first two project areas when they had their way.  
That leads to the distinct impression that the I-Team feels the stakeholders are polarized to the point that a true cooperative process might be out of reach within the time constraints set by the funding partners. An “offline” action by the I-Team certainly seems to point that way.
“They also polled us as far as our first and second choice of the packages that we prefer at this point,” noted Greenberg. “They’re getting all kinds of unusual responses, including a protest ballot that listed the first choice as no choice and the second choice as External A.”
Greenberg said discussions with Don Benninghoven, chair of the BRTF and Ken Wiseman, MLPAI executive director, have led him to believe the stakeholders will be asked to only produce two final proposals, although there is the possibility that three will come out of the deliberations, which will continue in September (Sept. 9-10 at a location to be determined).
The preliminary agenda for the BRTF meeting includes a presentation of the Science Advisory Team evaluations of the six internal and external proposals chosen by the stakeholders at the end of the second round.  There will also be  presentation of the comments obtained during the series of recent workshops held along the coast and at Catalina Island. “That will be a small book, they had close to 1,200 public comments,” said Greenberg.
The leads (spokespersons) for the internal packages and external proposals evaluated by the SAT will be given a chance to explain the rationale behind their designs.
“Then I heard there will be a panel discussion with the BRTF and the entire stakeholder group on the various geographies one by one in the South Coast,” noted Greenberg. “They want to get very explicit with their instructions. They promise no more confusion.
“We’ll see how that plays out.”

MLPAI Meeting Schedules and Locations
*  Blue Ribbon Task Force

July 28-29, 2009
July 28: 9:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
July 29: 8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Sheraton Delfina Santa Monica
530 Pico Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90405

*  South Coast Regional Stakeholder Group
August 3-4, 2009

August 3: Meeting
9:30 a.m.
Holiday Inn
850 Palomar Airport Road
Carlsbad, CA 92008

August 4: Work Session
8:00 a.m.
Hilton Garden Inn
6450 Carlsbad Blvd.
Carlsbad, CA 92011

September 9-10, 2009
Location to be determined
September 9: Work Session
September 10: Meeting

Unfunded mandate vs. funded planning

SACRAMENTO — Hopes that the legislature would step in and demand fiscal responsibility as part of the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative process seem to have faded in the wake of actions taken by legislators tied to environmental lobbyists.

Even a halt to the process until MLPAI costs — which even by Schwarzenegger’s conservative estimates will run a minimum of 10 to 15 million dollars a year — are addressed seems to be a longshot.
“When they talk about closing schools and parks, cutting back on police and shutting down firehouses, it’s seems absurd that this kind of burden would be placed on the state,” one source in the state capital told WON. “The only responsible thing is to do nothing until the financing is in place. To me that’s so blatantly common sense it’s hard to understand any other position.”
With the legislature locked into a contentious budget struggle, the last chance for common sense actions rests in the hands of the Fish and Game Commission. Commissioners are staunch supports of an array of fishing closures under the auspices of the MLPAI, but at least two — Dan Richards and Jim Kellogg — have said they don’t think it’s right to carry the process any farther until funding for implementation, scientific monitoring, education and enforcement are in place.
Enforcement was the big bone of contention last week when the association representing California’s game wardens asked that no further programs, and specifically the MLPA, be implemented by the commission until adequate funding for enforcement was in place and wardens were again put on full-time schedules (see related story in this issue).
How the commission reacts won’t be officially known until they sit again at their Aug. 5-6 meeting at the Yolo Fliers Club, 17980 County Road 94B, in Woodland. (The commission is so strapped for cash that it has been skirting its requirement to hold meetings throughout the state by shifting them around Sacramento County.)
It’s known that commissioners Richard Rogers and Michael Sutton will brook no delays in the MLPAI process. That leaves Commission President Cindy Gustafson of South Lake Tahoe as the deciding vote. A staunch supporter of the MLPAI, Gustafson has yet to show anything but a tendency to go with the status quo on the issue — which is full speed ahead. But in fairness, the matter of a delay or halt in the process has never even been brought to so much as a motion by the commissioners.

So far it’s all talk. That will change during the August meetings, when commissioners are supposed to vote on a final proposal for the North Central Coast project.

— Rich Holland

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