I am grateful to Mr. Evans for keeping the debate in front of the public regarding the effective use of Napa County Staff and Planning Commission time.

In an ideal world, Mr. Evans would be correct ("County staff time is available to all," Dec. 21), in arguing that everyone has equal right to staff time. But we do not live in an ideal world. And one of its constraints is that time is irreplaceable and as such it ought to be used judiciously and to maximum effect.

There are only so many working hours in a year available to staff to work on the multitude of issues as directed by the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors and that requires prioritizing them according to their importance. The overriding criteria of importance are issues which safeguard and promote the health and welfare of our entire community. Though the wishes of individuals are important, they are secondary to the former.

The Planning Commission only meets 25 times a year. When it devotes four meetings - 20 per cent - to the application of a single individual who seeks to land his helicopter on his property for recreational purposes as in the Palmaz case, how can one argue that other more important common interest issues are not being set aside? It is no stretch to imagine three or four similar applications following this one including ones by helicopter taxi operators as in many desirable parts of the world.

As of Nov. 14, county Planning, Building and Environmental Services had devoted 1,031 hours of staff time to the Palmaz application. Where would it find time if more such applications came before the county? Should we double and triple county staff? Should be require the Planning Commission to meet 50 times a year? Who would be willing to serve?

I calculated that the neighbors of this one application devoted approximately a collective 2,500 to 3,000 hours of their time to date attending the hearings to which this applicant was entitled. Time lost in productivity, time defending their own property rights. Multiply this by three across neighborhoods in our county and the severity of the problem becomes even more evident.

To his credit, Mr. Evans applying common sense - not even considering the effects of proliferation - concedes that: "It would appear that the time devoted to Palmaz' plan is a significant causal factor in the county's relative inaction on out-of-control tourism, traffic congestion, crumbling infrastructure, high cancer rates, lack of low-income housing, climate change and God only knows what else."

I might add: Enacting more effective action plans when disasters strike. We need to free up the work load of staff, Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors so they can devote it to pro-active planning rather than to reactive applications devoid of any public benefit. This is what we expect, this is what we bargain for.

As for every citizen's right to be afforded an application review and hearing as part of "what our Founding Fathers had in mind when they created this great Democratic Republic," Mr. Evans might consider that according to that scenario, any citizen would be entitled consideration by staff for wanting to build a high-rise apartment, a hotel or service garage in the Ag Preserve or in a residential neighborhood in one of our cities if we didn't have the land use regulations we do. As a result, we have a more desirable and a more valuable Napa valley from which we all benefit.

Our Founding Fathers contemplated an educated and considerate populace, not one that regards individual rights trumping those of neighbors. It also contemplated a government equally composed of educated and wise citizens who knew how to prioritize their time in the interest of the public. This is the only way our Democratic Republic can work.

When the "me" culture rules under the guise of democracy, government becomes ineffective, subject to corruption, less credible and we all lose.

Christine Tittel

Calistoga

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