Raft resort owner, former supervisor and slow-growth superhero Bill Center blames El Dorado County’s exurban sprawl on 40 years on pro-growth supervisors and weak planning. He points to the 1996 General Plan as an example.
“Right in the preamble … it said that gridlock traffic was an acceptable tradeoff for economic growth,” he said, shaking his head.
A 2012 UC Davis study by Craig Beebe and Stephen Wheeler titled “Gold County: the politics of landscape in exurban El Dorado County,” examines the factors in play, and found that shortly before the 1996 plan’s approval, more than 10,000 acres in rural areas were shifted from agriculture to residential designations with few public meetings and little fanfare.
Much of that land remains undeveloped, and is now constrained by subdivision that which require expensive infrastructure: water, sewer and wide roads with multiple access points, all vastly stricter than when the property was designated residential, according to Principal Planner Shawna Purvines.
The 2004 El Dorado County General Plan was based on its predecessor, but included a more detailed environmental impact report and also integrated traffic control measures enacted as Measure Y in 1998.
Beebe and Wheeler condemned the 2004 plan for doing “little to develop any positive vision for future county growth,” and making more “low-density, high-impact, disbursed subdivisions” possible.
Center and his slow-growth partner, prominent Democratic Pollster Jim Moore, who lives in Camino agree, and contend that anti-growth sentiments are stronger than ever.
“Public opinion has hit critical mass,” said Moore, whose polling shows between two-thirds and three-quarters of people generally oppose growth in their community, but in El Dorado County the number is 85 to 90 percent.
Center added, “They didn’t like (big projects) when I was on the board, but today they hate them,” he said. “There’s a big disconnect between the people … in charge and the people who live here.”
Beebe and Wheeler found that recent arrivals often become the most fervent anti-growthers, “asserting their right to protect the landscape by whatever means they see fit, including litigation and angry outbursts in public meetings.”
The academics cite recent campaign slogans that seem to imply the rural lifestyle is something that belongs solely to the existing residents: “Keep us rural,” and “Preserve our rural heritage.” They trace this “defensive nativism” to “feelings of loss, threat and fear,” in ex-urbanites, fear of traffic, fear of growth and fear of other people. They repeatedly note the lack of racial diversity in the county.
Unflattering academic depictions of El Dorado County residents aside, the fact that most are traffic–averse and see little personal benefit from residential growth can’t be denied.
That underlying attitude, combined with a poor understanding of land use planning, has made it easier for most residents to just say no.
But the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors doesn’t have that luxury, according to former Supervisor Jack Sweeney, who termed out in 2012.
“The Board of Supervisors are charged by law in California with planning for growth of the community, and with administering to applications tendered by land owners,” he said. “You can’t deny them due process.
“Good land used planning starts with knowing the facts, and that’s what the process provides,” he added.