At the end of a five-hour, standing-room-only El Dorado County Board of Supervisors meeting Feb. 14, Supervisors John Hidahl, Shiva Frentzen and Michael Ranalli voted to deny approval of the Dixon Ranch subdivision. Supervisors Brian Veerkamp and Sue Novasel favored future consideration of a revised version of the project but opposed full denial.
Dixon Ranch has been on the books for four years and the supervisors were asked at the meeting to accept or reject a comprehensive development agreement between the county and Dixon Ranch Ventures LLC. The county’s Planning Commission had recommended approval with a number of environment-related conditions in a 3-1 vote Jan. 14. District 1 commissioner at the time, Rich Stewart, recused himself.
Project opponents were out in force with buttons and signs reading “Deny Dixon,” Don’t Amend,” “Just Say No” and “I Stand with Green Valley Alliance.”
“Don’t Amend” referred to a request for a General Plan amendment that would have increased the allowable density and a zoning change on the 280 acre parcel off Green Valley Road in the El Dorado Hills Community Region. The project was designed for 605 homes, including approximately 160 age-restricted parcels.
Project opposition was led by the Green Valley Alliance, mostly residents of the general area served by Green Valley Road and Malcolm-Dixon Road. Approximately 100 filled the meeting room and the majority registered opposition during public comment periods. A half-dozen said they favored the project for various reasons, drawing groans and boos from the audience.
Board Chair Frentzen cautioned the crowd several times to be courteous and respectful regardless of whether they agreed with speakers.
Traffic and safety issues highlighted the opposition despite the developer’s willingness to make significant improvements at several spots along Green Valley Road and its tributaries. Traffic studies concluded that the development would add nearly 5,000 vehicle trips per day to the current 11,000 trips and residents spoke passionately about roads’ narrowness and drivers’ speeding on straightaways.
Auditor-Controller Joe Harn challenged the development agreement as one “that does not benefit most citizens.” Since 2013-14, Harn said, “We deferred everything (road maintenance) and if you approve this, you’ll have to cut services countywide.”
He took particular issue with the project’s fiscal impact analysis, calling it inaccurate and “not in compliance with the General Plan Fiscal Analysis element.” Harn opined that an accurate analysis should “be done before land use decisions are made. The way this is rolled out, the fire district takes less money so developers can build houses.” As proposed, he said the benefit to county coffers would be “razor thin at about $10 per unit.”
Chief Administrative Officer Don Ashton also expressed concerns with the financial elements of the agreement, saying, “If it’s OK’d now, the county is taking a risk that voters could overturn (any related) tax.”
The agreement included a 38 percent discount in the Traffic Impact Mitigation fees for each of the age-restricted units, which Harn called a “ridiculous clause … which the Planning Commission should have known.”
Resident Mary Williams questioned county staff’s recommendation for approval of the project “as appropriate for this land,” saying, “It’s not compatible with the area around it.” She challenged a zoning change from agricultural to high-density residential. She drew a big laugh with, “Would you go through with a wedding to the absolutely wrong person just because the wedding was planned and paid for?”
“If the plan doesn’t fit, you must not permit,” quipped speaker Don Larson.
Sue Taylor with Save Our County suggested the project would violate county Measures Y and E regarding levels of service on county roads and called the traffic study “flawed.” She also challenged the adequacy of water and sewer services.
Ellen Van Dyke reminded that a shortage of affordable housing could eventually run afoul of state requirements and said, “We don’t need more high-end houses.” (Joel Korotkin, speaking for the developers, stated earlier that the price range for the non age-restricted units would be north of $400,000.)
Former planning commissioner Stewart spoke later in the meeting, saying the project was not appropriate for the parcel, adding that existing “lights don’t work to move traffic.” He suggested a redesign.
Citing the General Plan, District 1’s Hidahl asked, “Is there a real need for this?” He noted that the county’s greater need is more likely “affordable housing and jobs.” Sharing information he learned at a recent “new supervisor training” by the California State Association of Counties, he said the problem (of resistance to a project) isn’t the California Environmental Quality Act but “jamming a project down the throats of people who don’t want it.”
“I really struggle with this project at this location. The market price is high, TIM fees are high and $480,000 is not affordable housing,” Hidahl concluded.
While eventually voting in the minority, Brian Veerkamp acknowledged that he is not sure the public benefit of the development outweighs the negatives.
“If the project does not go through, how will we fix Green Valley Road?” he asked. “Whether or not this is the right project, what (might emerge instead) could be something less healthy.”
Korotkin acknowledged the concerns of the auditor and suggested the board not vote immediately but “hold off for us to work with the CAO and the auditor … regarding air quality and other issues … We would like to come back on a date certain.”
“I think it should go back to the Planning Commission,” Hidahl responded.
Veerkamp moved to have the board continue the matter “off calendar.”
Frentzen then offered a second motion to deny the project. Hidahl seconded. The Clerk of the Board Jim Mitrisin then polled the supervisors for their votes. Hidahl, yes. Veerkamp, no. Frentzen, yes. Novasel, no. Ranalli, yes.
Asked for further clarification of whether the vote was to deny approval of the development agreement, General Plan amendment and rezone or more broadly for the project itself, CAO Ashton wrote via e-mail, “The vote was to deny the project in total.”