Local attorney Jim Brunello looked like a rumpled Uncle Sam last week as he pointed a figurative index finger at a room full of community leaders and delivered the message: “El Dorado Hills needs you.”
A student of county land use dating back to the 1960s, Brunello has led the Economic Development Advisory Committee for the past three-and-a-half years, and was in El Dorado Hills to encourage the formation of local councils to guide land-use decisions in their communities.
“People who wanted or didn’t want things made appointments with supervisors and made their case one on one,” he said. “They still do. Until now it’s all been decided in the back room.”
That’s about to change. Brunello was at the library last week with EDAC volunteers, encouraging local leaders to help pull the decisions that shape their community out of the back room and make land-use planning less reactionary.
The front door opened in December when the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors combined the county planning, transportation and environmental departments into one large Community Development Agency, headed by Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Kim Kerr.
Local councils will formalize their community’s vision into a plan that can be used to shape policy and evaluate project proposals. The councils will be self-selecting, and can represent a geographic area or a special interest group.
The additional responsibility and the resulting outreach into the communities marks the transition of EDAC from economic development and regulatory reform into community development. EDAC becomes CDAC.
Councils have already formed in Camino, Placerville, Shingle Springs, Diamond Springs/El Dorado and Cool, where residents have long held a shared identity and sought greater representation in county governance.
But will mainstream El Dorado Hills residents buy in? The process will require hours of prime time meetings.
History doesn’t bode well for such councils in El Dorado Hills, where residents have typically gotten involved in land use matters only when personally affected and then only to oppose a proposed project, be it more homes, stores, offices or roads. Even schools and parks face stiff opposition in the neighborhoods they serve.
Brunello played on the community’s pervasive truculence. “There are things going on that will affect you,” he said. “They’ll affect everyone. Organize and be heard.”
District 1 Supervisor Ron Mikulaco was on hand last week. He recently named Marshall Medical Center Executive T. Abraham to a second EDAC term.
Abraham told community leaders that the current supervisors face far-reaching decisions in the next three years, and the new agency lets a “council of communities plug into the board and be heard as never before.”
“It’s just a question of do we want to organize … and be a part of this, or have other people determine our future,” Abraham said.
Six sprawling specific plans were approved between 1987 and 1998, covering nearly 10,000 acres of El Dorado Hills. Those plans locked in development rights for an estimated 14,000 homes that would come to define El Dorado Hills far more than the villages envisioned by Alan Linsey and Victor Gruen in the late 1950s.
Most of the new homes had yet to be built when the 2004 General Plan was fought over and eventually approved. One of the most contentious issues was the forecast for 32,000 new homes in the county by 2025, including those in the existing specific plans. Most of the new homes would be “accommodated,” in planning parlance, in El Dorado Hills.
Brunello predicted that the latest growth projections, due in the next 30 days, will show slower residential demand than the 2004 forecasts, pushing the planning horizon to 2035 or beyond.
Rural areas, by contrast, would likely show greater demand than the 2004 forecast.
The forecasts are important because, in theory at least, the board should use them to drive large land-use decisions, he said, and community councils will want to be involved in the discussion. The councils will also address road policy. Brunello mentioned Green Valley Road, where hundreds of new homes are currently proposed with no planned widening of what locals claim has become a congested and dangerous east-west transportation artery.
“If you want to be involved you better get there early,” Brunello said.
“If my proposal benefits the community; if I have the interest and support of other councils, then I stand a much better chance (of approval),” he continued, explaining the role of councils when developers come knocking. “And if my project meets the community standards, my chances are even better. That’s what we’re proposing. Most developers would prefer the strictest standards over trying to guess what the community wants.”
EID Director Alan Day called the CDAC model “a good way to find commonality with other groups and gain synergy.”
Local real estate specialist and EDAC volunteer Steve Ferry organized last week’s meeting on behalf of the Tea Party Patriots of El Dorado Hills, but made it clear that the Tea Party has no desire to be a community group or even the facilitator.
El Dorado Hills resident Noah Briel is a mixed-use advocate and long-standing EDAC volunteer. “It’s working now,” he said of the CDAC process. “The question is can we take it down to the community level, rather than just have people like Gordon (Helm) and Steve (Ferry) and me up there representing all of you. I’m a good guy, but I’m not you and I don’t share all your concerns.”
The following night Senior Planner Shawna Purvines appeared at the regular monthly Area Planning Advisory Committee meeting and delivered a tight summary of the Land Use Policy Programmatic Update, aka LUPPU, which is the vehicle for the land use and regulatory reform measures currently under environmental review.
Despite the enthusiastic meeting the prior night, her audience was little more than a dozen APAC regulars.
Purvines took the CDAC model one step down, explaining how local councils can formalize a vision by agreeing on their community’s defining qualities, for example: “What makes you Bass Lake Hills?”
Those goals will be expanded into community design standards and a community plan which, in the short term, would have to be consistent with the General Plan and zoning, but longer term could suggest zoning changes or even land use designation changes.
She warned that each council must represent a cross-section of the community, and encouraged the inclusion of land owners.
Purvines said she’s done it before, and the resulting plans created trust and support between the community and supervisors. She promised outcomes that better reflect the will of the community.
The process is not well-suited to conventional meetings, which could drag on for months, she said. High speed facilitated meetings work better, Purvines explained, promising tools and personal assistance to drive the creation of a community plan quickly.
“You want to get plugged into the board sooner rather than later,” she said.
The first step
El Dorado Hills residents must first define their councils. Neighborhoods such as Bass Lake Hills, which have yet to build out, are a natural fit for the process, said Purvines.
Residents of older, built-out neighborhoods where residential design standards are less an issue might band together.
She offered large maps of El Dorado Hills, suitable for working out council boundaries, but said someone or some group needs to host the council formation process.
A core group of El Dorado Hills leaders met on Monday, Feb. 18, to discuss the best way to launch the process locally.
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