Sarah Christie praised as county replaces her

The tumultuous times of Sarah Christie on the county Planning Commission came to a quiet, definitive end Tuesday, as the Board of Supervisors, without comment, unanimously appointed Dan O’Grady to replace her.

Three people in the audience praised Christie, who resigned under pressure Dec. 18.

Richard Margetson said he didn’t know O’Grady, and “he may be a fine person.” However, Margetson added, after “looking at (O’Grady’s) application, there is no way it stacks up to what you’ve lost.”

O’Grady, a registered professional engineer, is a member of the county Water Resources Advisory Committee and a former member of the Atascadero Planning Commission. He belongs to several organizations, among them the county Land Conservancy, the Atascadero Native Tree Association and the San Luis Obispo Arts Center.

Elaine Watson of Los Osos praised Christie for being “ethical, intelligent, well-informed and articulate,” among other laudatory adjectives.

That drew applause from the audience, but Supervisor Chairman Frank Mecham cut it off. “That’s enough,” he said. If audience members want “to congratulate someone,” they can do it outside, he said.

Christie drew heat from the time Supervisor Jim Patterson first appointed her in January 2005. She is a hard-line environmentalist, an employee of the California Coastal Commission and the sister of local Sierra Club leader Andrew Christie.

All that drew — at a minimum — suspicion from the county’s property rights advocates and groups such as the Farm Bureau and the Cattlemen’s Association.

They perceived Christie, as a planning commissioner, as leaning against their interests. Christie’s supporters said her seemingly indefatigable questioning on land use issues merely reflected her greater knowledge.

Among her controversial stances was opposition to the Hearst Ranch conservation easement (before joining the commission); opposing development of the Santa Margarita Ranch on the grounds that environmental concerns couldn’t be mitigated; opposing new gravel mining in the Salinas River; and, more recently, raising detailed questions about large solar installations on the Carrizo Plains.

Twice in four years the county civil Grand Jury investigated the Planning Commission.

Although the grand jury did not name anyone, it was clear that Christie was at least a partial target. They did not find her guilty of any wrongdoing.

Patterson kept her as planning commissioner throughout all this, but he said that last year, he began to hear increasing criticism from new and unexpected sources.

Christie has called herself the victim of a double cross, and some other environmentalists consider her a trophy on the wall of such fundamentalist property rights groups as the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business — COLAB — which called repeatedly for Christie’s removal.

The newly constituted Planning Commission has its first meeting Thursday. It will immediately tackle a controversial project — possible oil drilling in the Huasna Valley.