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Old Baldy, Canada | photo by Cameron Schaus
Conservation Issues of the Ventana Chapter | monterey county

$5000 appeal fee puts a chill on the public process

February 2011

by Gillian Taylor

When Monterey County officials make decisions about new development, zoning changes, water supplies, and many other things that affect the environment or our communities, those decisions may be appealed only by paying a fee. Monterey County currently has one of the highest appeal fees of any county in California—almost $5000 per appeal. When two levels of appeal are required, the cost is doubled.

Having such high appeal fees has a chilling effect on the public’s ability to participate fully in their local governance. Such high fees are a deterrent to correcting unlawful or harmful policy decisions. The Ventana Chapter joins other community organizations to call for elimination of such fees for non-profit, public-benefit organizations. The Board of Supervisors has scheduled a hearing on this issue for late March.

The Ventana Chapter supports the differentiation between public interest non-profits and non-profits which function as political and economic advocates. Only appeals in the public interest should receive this fee exemption. The Chapter takes this differentiation seriously, especially in light of the fact that non-profits organized as economic and political advocates often receive significant sums of public money annually. For example, the Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association received more than $400,000 from federal sources in 2010 to promote the economic interests of their industry. Such organizations, whose budgets are augmented by taxpayers, should not receive fee exemptions on appeals to further their economic interests. The fee exemption should apply only to community groups whose sole interest is the public interest.

Because the appeal process is complex and demanding, and because the proposed changes would only apply to appeals brought by public interest organizations regarding important matters, the proposed changes should not have any significant fiscal impact on the county. Thanks to Supervisor Jane Parker for taking the lead on this issue.

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