I recently commented on a position that two Lompoc City Council members had taken regarding changes they wanted to see in the General Plan. One of these councilmen has served more than 10 years and the other for six. It seems that by now they would have learned that public policy takes time, and that it can have unintended consequences.

Because of the number of elements or chapters impacted by their proposal, the city planning manager informed them that it would trigger the need to add a newly minted environmental justice chapter to the plan.

If changes they proposed had been limited to two or fewer chapters, the additional chapter wouldn’t be needed until the plan was scheduled for a major overhaul, but their proposal included changes to six.

Guidance from the state of California advises that “An Environmental Justice element (chapter), or related goals, policies, and objectives integrated in other elements, that identifies disadvantaged communities within the area covered by the general plan” be added at the next major revision or by 2030.

It defines “disadvantaged communities” as “Areas with concentrations of people that are of low income, high unemployment, low levels of homeownership, high rent burden, sensitive populations, or low levels of educational attainment.” That would describe many areas of Lompoc.

I can recall back in the 1950s when I was a young boy growing up in Los Angeles that there were several large refineries and chemical plants in the area around Torrance, California.

These factories were surrounded by farms and open space. However, as LA grew, developers gobbled up the farmland and planted houses to replace the open space buffer zones. This placed the new residents at risk if a mishap were to occur at one of the plants.

In Lompoc, space for commercial manufacturing that can be segregated from residential areas is limited. In fact, most of the industrial area is only separated by an alley or street from the surrounding houses and apartments.

The same is true in almost every other community in the state; as time passed, residential areas encroached on airports, truck terminals, warehouse, and industrial areas.

One of the key provisions of this new requirement is to “Identify objectives and policies that prioritize improvements and programs that address the needs of disadvantaged communities.”

The term “prioritize improvements” could mean that, somehow, existing manufacturing businesses might be required to reduce or eliminate as the guidance suggests “pollution exposure, including the improvement of air quality.”

An example of unintended consequences is explained in the brief history provided at the beginning of the new guidance:

“In the 1800s, State sponsored policies further dismantled (Indian) tribes’ relationship with the land. For example, the Act for the Government and Protection of Indians made it illegal to practice prescribed burning, the intentional ignition of small fires that helped many tribes maintain healthy landscapes.

“The following 100+ years of fire suppression policy not only placed tribal cultural resources at risk, but also led to forest densification and heightened risk for catastrophic wildfires which continues to threaten communities today.”

So, you see an effort to provide “environmental justice” in the 1800s resulted in long-term damage to the environment and an increased risk to people of all societal groupings including disadvantaged communities.

The recent series of fires across the West Coast that destroyed whole communities,and the dense smoke plumes causing extremely poor air quality for several days across vast regions of the U.S. is a perfect example of the unintended consequences of poorly thought out public policy.

Another requirement is to “Identify objectives and policies to promote safe and sanitary homes in disadvantaged communities. The general plan should consider both indoor and outdoor air quality.”

To accomplish this the guidance states that “indoor filtration systems are also important considerations in project design.” This alone would add a substantial cost to new and renovated housing since the intent is to isolate indoor environments from intrusion of various pollutants including those that occur naturally in the environment.

The unintended consequence here could be the further deterioration of the affordable housing dream.

My point is that this new policy, developed by people who only think in terms of sound bites and want to show “they care about disadvantaged communities” was created without consideration of what the result will be in terms of new/renovated housing costs, or costs to consumers due to increased costs of manufacturing.

Making it illegal to practice prescribed burning codified in the Act for the Government and Protection of Indians in 1850 and still in practice today should be enough evidence that policy-makers need to think beyond the present.

Lastly, the two Lompoc councilmen who are demanding the General Plan be changed to suit them would trigger a new and very costly public policy prematurely. That seems irresponsible to me.

— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry. He has been following Lompoc politics since 1992, and after serving 23 years appointed to various Lompoc commissions retired from public service. The opinions expressed are his own.