On Jan. 14, community activists followed through on a challenge to the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors when Rural Communities United filed to get a petition on this year’s November ballot. Based primarily on traffic and land-use issues, the initiative’s proponents hope to generate broad public support for curtailing large residential developments, particularly those proposed in several west county areas.
Former District 4 county supervisor Bill Center and current Cameron Park Community Services Director Shiva Frentzen top the list of five proponents of the petition. John Hidahl, Ellen Van Dyke and Howard Penn are the others. Hidahl serves on the El Dorado Hills Fire Department Board of Directors and as member of the county’s Republican Central Committee. Van Dyke is an activist in the Green Valley Road Alliance. Penn owns the Sierra Nevada House in Coloma and is a candidate for District 4 supervisor this year.
Last Tuesday’s afternoon supervisors session included a presentation by the Shingle Springs Community Alliance, which grew out of local resident opposition to the proposed San Stino and Tilden Park development projects. While addressing the board, Sam Parlin dropped the potential initiative “bomb” as one of a number of other options the alliance has considered but did not note that the petition documents had already been filed.
El Dorado County Assistant Registrar of Voters Linda Webster said she accepted the Notice of Intention to Circulate Petition and the $200 filing fee from the group at approximately 11:30 a.m. las Tuesday — several hours before the afternoon presentation. The process is clearly defined in the Elections Code, Webster explained. Proponents will have 180 days in which to gather 7,800 “valid” signatures, which must then be checked and verified by department staff.
The documents are first approved as complete and proper and then sent to County Counsel’s Office for further validation. That department has 15 days to complete its review and then the clock starts for the 180 days. Early July is anticipated as the deadline for verification of all signatures, she said. Eventually, the qualifying petition goes to the Board of Supervisors which can adopt it as is or place it on the November ballot for a countywide vote.
County Counsel Ed Knapp responded via e-mail to a number of questions about the initiative process:
“The county counsel writes what is called a ballot title and summary of the measure, which will be included on the petition that will be circulated for signatures along with the full text of the measure itself,” Knapp explained. “We’ve got a few days to write that. We do it for all initiative petitions in the county, and did it for the original Measure Y plus the amendment to Measure Y. We also will write the impartial analysis of the measure that will go into the ballot pamphlet for the election, assuming that the proponents of the measure obtain the required number of signatures to get it on the ballot.”
“The ‘Fix Highway 50 Traffic First/Keep Us Rural’ Initiative” includes a statement of the reasons for the proposed action as an effort to prevent development of “33,000 more homes in rural areas throughout the county.” It continues, charging that “Our county supervisors are being lobbied hard by housing developers” to build those homes.
“Today, we have 54,300 homes on the west slope. If the county allows up to 33,000 new homes to be built, traffic on Highway 50 west of Placerville will worsen by 50 percent or more. Highway 50 in the west county has now reached maximum capacity, and there are no plans to sufficiently widen it. The county currently has 16,000 vacant parcels to build new homes, which is enough to last 20 years. Rather than approve more housing subdivisions that worsen traffic — the county should start approving job projects to reduce commute traffic,” the document continues.
“In 2004, when voters narrowly approved the General Plan, the county promised to ‘Fix Traffic and Limit Growth.’ Residents expect this promise to be kept.”
If passed, the initiative’s strictures would be added to the county’s General Plan and remain in effect for 20 years. The first element of the petition is as follows:
“Fix Highway 50 Traffic First. Policy TC-Xc. If Caltrans determines that traffic on any Highway 50 road segment west of the city of Placerville has reached, or is forecast to reach, Level of Service F (LOS F = stop-and-go, gridlock) during weekday, peak-hour commute periods, then the county shall not approve single-family detached housing subdivisions of five or more parcels until cumulative Highway 50 traffic levels are improved and stay below LOS F.”
The California Department of Transportation has already reported that LOS F has been recorded during Caltrans traffic monitoring activities. The county’s affected segments of the highway are from the county line to El Dorado Hills Boulevard/Latrobe Road. From that interchange east to Cameron Park Drive, Caltrans studies show a LOS E, that is only marginally better than the more westerly section. Caltrans further has reported that it has no plans in place nor contemplated to expand or otherwise improve Highway 50 in the impacted areas.
El Dorado County voters have twice passed, by significant majorities, Measure Y, which established the LOS guidelines within which future residential development may occur. Center is a chief advocate of and member of the Measure Y Committee. He has presented information and interpretations of the measure and its projections at two Board of Supervisors meetings in the past four months.
“According to the (Measure Y element of the) General Plan we must stop residential subdivisions,” Center declared during a Dec. 10, 2013, presentation. At the same time, he challenged many points in the county’s recently released Travel Demand Model whose data and methodology is “flawed,” he said.
The second element of the petition describes what proponents want to see in future county policy regarding issues related to land use, particularly in more rural areas:
“Keep us rural. Policy 22.214.171.124.1. Lands designated in the General Plan on the effective date of this measure as: (1) open space, agricultural lands or natural resource shall remain in these land-use categories, and (2) low density residential, medium density residential or rural residential housing shall not be rezoned to higher densities. Land-use designation and zoning changes may be allowed in these categories (1, 2) for non-residential (economic development) projects or agricultural purposes if compatible with surrounding land uses.”
The initiative would not apply to the cities of Placerville or South Lake Tahoe nor within the jurisdiction of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. Additional details of implementation include:
• Effective date and expiration date: All provisions of this measure shall take effect upon certification of election results, and expire 20 years after that date.
• If any provision of this measure is for any reason held to be invalid, the remaining provisions shall remain in full force and effect.
• On and after the effective date of this measure, no development agreement entered into pursuant to Government Code Section 65865 shall be approved, or extended, unless fully compliant with all provisions of this measure.
• Level of Service F (LOS F) means a volume-to-capacity ratio of 1.0 or greater (100 percent-plus capacity) as determined by Caltrans (the California Department of Transportation).