Naive Land Use initiatives Fail to Address Reality
El Dorado County (EDC) accommodates annual growth rates, historically 1.03%, as required by State regulations. To date we’ve heard no discussions by initiative creators as to how EDC will handle state mandates that require counties to accept a portion of the Sacramento regions’ future residents. Sorry to be cynical, but ever since the 1970/80s when many people “discovered” this area and subsequently moved here, this area has had an active coalition of individuals trying to stop growth. The fundamental effort behind the messaging seems to remain: Stop local planning for growth and it won’t come. This mentality is consistent with Congressman McClintock’s assessment about water storage for the State and region as noted here. The failure to resolve problems is putting a measureable tarnish on this once golden state.
Veterans of years of these local growth wars, including Business Alliance members, naively thought that with the adoption of a General Plan ten-years-in-the making, an extensive Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and legal challenges the county was forced to defend, costs to local taxpayers soared into the millions with little if any resolution acceptable to all. It’s particularly disheartening that some have now chosen to attack professional county staff and others who factually disagree with them.
The hearings of February 24th and 25th were disappointing overall as the BOS seemed to have forgotten their prior direction to staff, as well as significant data provided during the past 4 years (to be recapped in the next issue) focused on GP implementation of existing policies. The Land Use Policy Programmatic Update (LUPPU) was simply the tool for implementing what was already adopted. Many who never supported that GP now are waging all-out war to win public sympathy by threatening uncontrolled runaway growth and mis-using data widely accepted by a diverse number of professionals and consultants who have no pony in this race. The prior BOS correctly reached out to hire firms beyond reproach so they would not be influenced by personal or political interests as has occurred in the past.
The fifth (and dare we dream – final?) voter initiative was filed on February 25th and signed by Sue Taylor of “Save our County” (SOC) and Laurel Stroud for “Residents Involved in Positive Planning (RIPP)”. It appears this initiative recognizes zoning must be consistent with a county’s GP and not visa-versa, by attempting to retain archaic zoning by changing GP Land Use Designations when zoning and land use designations are not consistent. We await legal opinions on all the initiatives, and ponder whether such maneuvering is likely to work. California has mandated growth requirements and planning laws/regulations aimed at overcoming anti-growth efforts that flourish in the 1980s. The State had recognized the vitality of California’s economy was deeply compromised by a lack of residential housing to meet all income level needs: from very low, to low, to moderate, to high-income levels. EDC is sorely lacking in even moderate-income level housing while high-income home numbers have grown disproportionately.
The scenarios reviewed at February’s hearings can be simplified: Does EDC direct growth to the areas with infrastructure, predominantly along the Highway 50 corridor’s “Community Regions” (CR), OR channel it into rural and agricultural areas?
Market demand for new homes in planned developments (CRs) is stronger due to a range of cost options provided, proximity to jobs and availability of services and amenities. Forcing higher density growth into rural often remote areas without support services and adequate roads means higher transportation costs as jobs remain predominantly along Highway 50.
Developable land in CRs is typically held by entities with resources and the capability/capital to develop the land (EDC’s GP is expensive to implement), though rural land development is much costlier. Rural (including agricultural) lands are predominantly held by small, fractured owners which has compromised EDC’s ability to plan for service extensions and utilities with so many stakeholders. Since build-out entails many incremental public decisions, it’s common for such projects to become impossible to meet all property owners’ demands.
Projects in designated Community Regions provide more complete communities including mixed uses for residential, retail and employment, thus reducing traffic overall. Traffic generated there is more internal to the projects and doesn’t use nearly as much public roadway as does rural expansion, but even the rural distribution ends up with the majority of trips also using Highway 50. Rural development must use existing public streets and roads yet one initiative seeks to remove the funding sources for rural road improvements.
An effective anti-growth strategy is to force growth into areas/situations that are not viable and thus, like we’re seeing now, planning efforts can again be attacked as the land wars continue. The EDC Chamber of Commerce is correct: The risk is real that the State could remove EDC’s local land-use authority altogether if EDC fails to comply with State mandates and laws.