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Second initiative takes aim at growth

By From page A1 | January 29, 2014

One week after Rural Communities United filed the county ballot initiative “Fix Highway 50 Traffic First/Keep Us Rural,” residents behind the Shingle Springs Community Alliance (resident opposition to the proposed San Stino and Tilden Park development projects) filed “Protect Rural Communities/ Fix Community Region Line Flaws,” which RCU spokesman and Measure Y co-creator Bill Center said might confuse voters — or worse, detract from the two groups’ common goal.

The Community Region Lines initiative filed last Thursday asks for an amendment to the 2004 El Dorado County General Plan, “to change the community region designations for the communities of Pollock Pines, Camino, Cedar Grove, Shingle Springs and the Green Valley Road corridor of El Dorado Hills and Cameron Park.” Further the proposed initiative states, “These communities have established rural commercial, residential, agricultural and recreational character that are not compatible with new ‘high intensity urban and suburban type development’ projects.”

“The Green Valley Alliance has been working to amend the Community Region lines as well, and our understanding is that it will be addressed in the Environmental Impact Review due out late in February,” said Green Valley Alliance spokeswoman and proponent of the RCU initiative Ellen Van Dyke. “Multiple initiatives can definitely be confusing, and a lot of effort, and the Community Region issue is supposed to be handled by the board this year. Obviously their group did not feel confident this would happen and are taking matters into their own hands. The supervisors could help by making the change in a timely manner.”

Reached by e-mail, Shingle Springs resident/District 4 supervisor candidate and one author of the Shingle Springs Community Alliance Initiative Lori Parlin said, “Community Regions are an ill-conceived and poorly understood aspect of the General Plan that could create a wall of sprawl of high density residential development along the Highway 50 corridor throughout the county.  It would obliterate the unique character of individual communities in the county regardless of the wishes of current residents to keep their communities rural.

“Four years ago the Board of Supervisors promised to eliminate the Community Region designation for Camino, Cedar Grove and Pollock Pines and they still haven’t done it” she continued. “Recently the county planning staff distorted the original community-based proposal to instead change the entire Camino-Pollock Pines CRL to one giant Rural Center. This violates the General Plan policy excluding low and medium-density residential land use areas from Rural Centers. In the General Plan, Rural Centers are smaller commercial and multi-family and small lot residential areas intended to serve the surrounding rural area. This was a clear signal to the Shingle Springs community that the Board of Supervisors cannot be trusted to do what the community asks. Instead voters will have to take direct action through the initiative.”

“We’re baffled and more than concerned about the filing of the Community Region Line Initiative,” said Center. “Our initiative will stop San Stino and Dixon Ranch. We don’t see the need for another and are concerned that because they filed it so soon after. It could confuse the public. The whole county isn’t affected by it, but they’ll have to collect signatures from all over the county. Our initiative is for everyone. By 2018 Measure Y will have run its course and we want to take care of Highway 50 and protect jobs.”

RCU filed its initiative even though supporters gained momentum in recent months. Partner Green Valley Alliance sent an e-mail to subscribers in early January stating, “We believe our supervisors are now listening.”

Even so, Center said they filed the ballot initiative because, “We feel like we’ve been in trench warfare with staff trying to get them to acknowledge that Highway 50 is at LOS F,” he said. “And the board has voted more than once not to consider early denials of projects that have already applied.

“With a potential 17,000 additional single-family home lots that could be approved in addition to the 16,000 that have already been approved, we felt it was time for the public to be able to weigh in on this issue which is clearly of countywide importance,” Center told Village Life. “We’ve written an initiative that is simple and clear. It will force the county to keep the promise that was made to fix traffic and control growth.”

This Wednesday RCU will begin collecting 7,200 signatures needed by July to place the initiative on the November ballot.

Proponents of Measure Y have long argued more rooftops won’t bring more jobs, but instead a focus should be on tourism and lower traffic mitigation fees to attract more businesses to the county. “We don’t think a small grocery store owner in Georgetown should have to pay $10 per square foot in TIM fees for commercial expansion,” said Center. “It’s not about money.”

At the crux of the issue is still traffic and various interpretations of how bad it is. In a Jan. 8 letter to Mountain Democrat, Center wrote, “Staff’s refusal to accept Caltrans’ determination that Highway 50 is currently at Level of Service F (gridlock), and that even with all planned improvements Highway 50 traffic will only get worse over the next 20 years, is inexplicable. It does the board, and the public, no favors when staff is not presenting the truth in a clear and unvarnished fashion.”

Center argued, it’s pointless for the county to continue collecting millions in Highway 50 TIM fees. “Caltrans said there are no plans to improve the capacity of Highway 50 in the next 20 years,” said Center, referring to a Caltrans letter submitted to the board. “We’re frustrated with county staff saying that it can be fixed and they keep collecting more money for TIM fees.”

Significant road improvements like construction of the Silva Valley interchange still won’t fix the big problem — Highway 50, Center said. “While any interchange that’s built or improved upon will make it easier for cars to get on and off the freeway, it’s not going to make Highway 50 less congested,” he asserted. “Ninety-five percent of the county roads are in great shape, so we don’t need to collect $50 million to fix them. And why collect money for Highway 50 when Caltrans said they can’t add more capacity lanes?”

Meanwhile developers remain quiet. Kirk Bone of Parker Development said they’ll comment after EIRs for proposed projects — including Marble Valley and Gallo’s Lime Rock — are complete in early spring.

Parlin said she believes the two initiatives may work together for the common good.

“While the RCU initiative and the Shingle Springs Community Alliance CRL initiative were filed separately, we believe they share a common purpose — to bring the 2004 General Plan more in line with its espoused intent, to keep El Dorado County rural,” she explained. “We share a vision of balanced growth in keeping with available resources. We share the goal of heading off large-scale, massively imbalanced residential development projects that will gridlock our roads and kill locally based businesses, industries and agricultural and recreation jobs that are the keys to El Dorado County’s current and future economy. We hope that together they will create a strong and unified message that will bring county voters to the polls in November 2014 to protect and preserve the quality of life and economic security of El Dorado County.”

Julie Samrick

Discussion | 6 comments

  • EllenJanuary 28, 2014 - 6:44 am

    From Parlin: “Recently the county planning staff distorted the original community-based proposal to instead change the entire Camino-Pollock Pines CRL to one giant Rural Center. .." From Center: “We feel like we’ve been in trench warfare with staff trying to get them to acknowledge that Highway 50 is at LOS F,..” See the common thread? The Board is listening, but their input is primarily from staff, who are NOT listening. I have had this conversation with 4 of the 5 supervisors, and one of them did not believe me. If you recognize this as a problem, speak with YOUR supervisor.

  • Food fightJanuary 29, 2014 - 10:04 am

    Ellen sounds like a disgruntled former county employee.

  • EllenFebruary 01, 2014 - 7:15 am

    former? yes. disgruntled? no. No food-fight here, although that's a funny tag line.

  • Mike RobertsJanuary 31, 2014 - 2:08 pm

    Good job Julie. You tackled a thorny and complex issue with aplomb... or maybe a bomb. We'll see. You delivered a concise statement of the most recent development, the Shingle Springs Community Alliance initiative backing a general plan amendment to move the community region boundaries, effectively blocking most smaller-lot residential development in the affected communities. You recapped the morass of activity that preceded the most recent initiative, without getting sucked down any rabbit holes. Best of all, you talked to the main people, or most of them at least, and let them speak their mind. That's good community journalism. You go girl. Readers without a land-use background are going to struggle to understand what a community region is, why we have them and why they matter. That's way more than would fit in one VL article, but there just might be a short sidebar or two in the archives that attempt to clarify some of the geekier land use concepts. The online story could link to such snippets for hardcore news hounds. If county leadership or staff is being accused of obfuscating or "not listening," they should be allowed to defend their actions or inactions. They walk a fine line... actually a bunch of them. Roger? Kim? Terri? Let's hear your perspective on these matters. Educate us please. Use the local media. This is a big, complex story. Normal people who want to vote on these initiatives should understand not only the general plan and its housing element at the conceptual level... but also the difference between community regions and rural centers, the state-mandated Regional Housing Needs Assessment (the population projections which our housing element must plan for, at the risk of losing state road funding or getting sued, like Folsom did,) and the infrastructure requirements (water, sewer and road) to comply with all of the above... Understanding the Rural Communities United message is even more difficult. The Measure Y guys are clearly smart. Perhaps they are counting on us taking their word for the uber-geeky traffic metrics and how growth will affect our roads and our lives. We shouldn't do that. Voters need a clear and objective understanding of what Measure Y accomplished - the intended and unintended consequences, plus what's being proposed. This stuff is hard. It's simply beyond most folks. But most of us will vote on it anyway. That's what makes this both scary and important. Full disclosure - I preceded Julie as a reporter for Village Life and covered land use topics for several years. For what it's worth, county planning department staff and leadership was always responsive to me. They returned calls on weekends and spent hours with me one-on-one. They were consistently open, objective and responsive. With a few notable exceptions, the other parties involved in these issues were far less open and objective with me. Sadly, the bureaucracy surrounding development has made it nearly impossible for regular folks to grasp, and very difficult for harried, underpaid, inexperienced local reporters to cover accurately... so most don't, at least not in depth. When a reporter like Julie takes the time to learn this stuff well enough to report on it this thoroughly, that in itself is applause worthy... especially because it's easy to get something wrong, and so contentious that any story is guaranteed to anger someone. Passions run high. Local media is an easy target. Keep up the good work over there Julie and (editor) Noel.

  • EllenFebruary 02, 2014 - 1:05 pm

    Funny Mike, you seem a little defensive for Julie, but you needn't be - she's doing a great job, and I don't think anyone has said otherwise! You also said that when you were reporting , staff was always responsive and open and spent hours with you. But please remember that you were acting in a reporting capacity, and it was in their best interest to do so! The general public has not always been so fortunate. I can respect that county staff does indeed have to walk a fine line, but they also have a job to do: cut through the technical jargon so that the public and the supervisors understand the issues, and I can pretty confidently say they are lacking in that regard. People know when the traffic is TOO MUCH; that's not actually 'hard' and not much interpretation of technical data is required for that. And yes, I'm with you in saying "keep up the good work Julie"

  • It' everyone elseFebruary 02, 2014 - 8:18 pm

    Snarky means spirited people carrying a chip on their shoulder diminish their own communications with the public and county staff Ellen.



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