Better together: a community vision
El Dorado Hills community leaders invite the public to help develop community vision and create a community projects launching pad.
An 11-member council representing a cross-section of El Dorado Hills will host the inaugural CEDAC-EDH Better Together public meeting at the Community Services District pavilion at 6:30 p.m. on April 18. Organizers expect a big turnout.
CEDAC-EDH gets its name and mission from the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors’ Community and Economic Development Advisory Commission. The county’s CEDAC added community development to its regulatory reform and General Plan implementation activities last year, spawning local councils throughout the county.
Marshall Medical executive T Abraham represents El Dorado Hills on the county-level CEDAC, and will serve as liaison between the new El Dorado Hills council and the county’s commission. The local councils will provide an important reference point for the county planners and supervisors, he said.
“If El Dorado Hills gets together and agrees that bike trails, or a four-lane highway to Folsom, or whatever they come up with … is important, that gets recorded in some sort of vision document that the board can use to help make those decisions,” Abraham explained.
Much of what the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors hear from local communities is from the same few activists who speak to the same issues, he continued, adding, “The vision document should give the rest of El Dorado Hills a voice.”
The local housing market has quietly heated up and major county land use decisions will be made over the next couple of years. The timing for an El Dorado Hills visioning exercise is good.
In a county born in the Gold Rush, El Dorado Hills is the new kid on the block. It’s nearest neighbor, Folsom, had a 100-year head start.
El Dorado Hills has become the region’s awkward and at times rebellious adolescent, a product of successive growth spurts, another of which seems immanent, making 2013 a good time for the community to get together and decide what it wants to be when it grows up.
Each member of CEDAC-EDH leadership team brings a long resume of community service. The CSD is represented, as is CEDAC, the Chamber of Commerce, the Area Planning Advisory Committee, the Community Council and the Design Review Committee, as well as veterans’ advocates and history preservationists.
Like the parent CEDAC organization, CEDAC-EDH meetings will be open to all, with most of the hands-on work done in subcommittees led by a council member with assistance from volunteers.
Retired El Dorado Hills real estate agent and long-time CEDAC volunteer Steve Ferry describes himself as a “community organizer.”
“I get people to the table, then turn it over to guys like this,” he said, gesturing to his friend Hal Erpenbeck, a retired Silicon Valley executive.
The pair sat down with Village Life recently to explain the council’s evolving outreach plans and goals.
Besides Ferry and Erpenbeck, the current CEDAC-EDH leaders include Noelle Mattock, Kathy Witherow, Billy Vandegrift, Georgi Knight, Debbie Manning, Betty January, Norm Rowett, John Hidahl and Jeff Haberman.
Each is affiliated with one or more current community organizations, but they serve CEDAC-EDH as informed residents, not stakeholders, said Ferry. “We’re just 11 people here to come up with ideas to better this community.
“Some of us have done some aspects of this before,” he continued, “but we’re painting this out of whole cloth.”
Besides the community vision exercise, they hope to attract grant funding for community development projects — regional parks, roadway beautification, etc.
Erpenbeck wistfully spoke about the possibly of a Japanese Tea/sculpture garden attached to the El Dorado Hills Library, a potential target destination for visitors and locals alike.
Ferry has ideas about linking the council’s community identity effort to specific local projects. The county’s agriculture, history and geography are fertile ground for thematic branding that creates “that sense of place found in strong communities,” he said.
Ferry said he also hopes business park representatives will participate in a yet-to-be-formed subcommittee dedicated to promoting the park.
Properly themed and promoted, the El Dorado Hills Business Park, newly unshackled from its employee cap, could realize its potential if it took a lesson from Silicon Valley, he said.
“If we had ‘Robotics Ranch’ or ‘Hydrogen Hill’ we could hire an economic development person and give them a tangible target,” Ferry concluded.
Erpenbeck and Ferry agreed that the scope and mission of the council will depend on the council members’ ability to identify opportunities, their willingness to lead subcommittees and generate broad participation in the process.
Ferry predicted that subcommittees would concentrate on roadway concerns, including Green Valley Road and the Southeast Capitol Connector.
“But bottom line, this is about much more than housing, business and roads,” said Ferry.
At the county level, CEDAC members use a “front door over back room” metaphor to describe their goal of creating a more transparent decision-making process.
After three closed organizational meetings to establish the leadership team and map out a broad strokes mission, the CEDAC-EDH leaders have committed to absolute transparency going forward, said Erpenbeck, adding, “Even if it’s harder to get things done.”
El Dorado Hills is not the only community forming a council. Councils are forming across the county, motivated by the promise of a voice in the policy-making process, an opportunity for unincorporated communities to have a say in the land use, road and environmental decisions that affect their quality of life.
Everyone involved concedes that the details are more than a little sketchy at this point. “We’re still feeling our way,” said Erpenbeck. “The process is a little like herding cats.”
The concept has nonetheless earned vocal support from both ends of the local political spectrum.
Perhaps more importantly, the over-worked community activists in the vast middle ground have signed on. The committee and commission members who read the reports, attend the interminable meetings and give up hundreds of prime-time hours each year to follow and guide local issues have turned out in force to encourage the Board of Supervisors to empower CEDAC at both the county and community levels.
The evolution and influence of CEDAC demonstrates the board’s willingness to consider well-formulated, objective advice, especially from those who understand the larger playing fields in which local decisions are made.
It also shows their desire for broad-based community input. “This only works if the supervisors are convinced that these councils represent the majority of their communities,” said Abraham.
CEDAC leaders remind their councils not to expect miracles. Policy decisions remain the sole responsibility of the supervisors — five everyday citizens enmeshed in transportation, land-use, social services, environmental and budgetary issues — and outcomes are often dictated by state or federal legislation, legal concerns and simple budget math.
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