Friday, August 1, 2014

Board of Supervisors approves web portal and grant program

From page A1 | April 01, 2013 |

The Transient Occupancy Tax will fund a new website promoting the county, an aggressive  grant acquisition program and mini-grants to “fabric-of-the-community” groups.

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The Board of Supervisors also tacked an additional year onto six current arts and tourism contracts funded by the 10 percent add-on to room rates in El Dorado County.

The decisions were based on recommendations from the board’s Economic Development Advisory Committee, which got a name changed during the same March 25 workshop.

EDAC is now officially CEDAC. Adding “community” to the commission’s name reflects an organic extension of county-level regulatory reform and General Plan implementation efforts to the local level, encouraging individual communities to organizing to define themselves and have a voice in policy making at the county level.

The name change also recognizes that a rich community life is good for local economies, and that proud, multi-faceted communities, large or small, that come together with a vision improve the lives of those who live there.

The original economic development mission has also expanded laterally at the county level. In January and March board workshops, CEDAC leaders Jim Brunello and Mike Ranalli badgered the supervisors to fund a grant development program which if successful, could save millions in general fund expenditures.

All that and more was on the table in a highly anticipated March 25 board workshop. That afternoon the supervisors approved the newly rechristened commission’s first round of community development recommendations, agreeing to loosen the Transient Occupancy Tax purse strings to fund:

• $100,000 for a county-wide web portal
• $100,000 for a grant development program
• $40,000  for community development mini-grants
• $110,000 for a one-year extension of grants to six arts and tourism organizations.

But before they could get to the visionary stuff, the supervisors needed an update from the sausage factory floor.

The workshop led off with presentations from DOT Engineer Claudia Wade on the soon-to-be-launched Traffic Demand Model, and Senior Planner Shawna Purvines on the 2013 Housing Element Update, a draft of which is on its way to the state for review.

Both are tentacles of the sprawling Land Use Policy Programmatic Update, which is currently under environmental review. Public hearings on the draft EIR should begin in early summer.

Working together

The interrelated initiatives required the consolidation of the county’s three land-use departments: Development Services, DOT and Environmental Management. In December they became the Community Development Agency, headed by Chief Administrative Officer Terri Daly and her right hand woman, Assistant CAO Kim Kerr.

The CAO’s office worked closely with CEDAC members to develop a policy formation structure that allows the community to participate in the new agency’s policy formation process, dubbed, “Future Planning.”

Councils of concerned residents are currently forming in communities across the county. They will be recognized by the Board of Supervisors and encouraged to develop priorities and criterion for future land use in their communities. County-wide community design standards will be applied in communities that choose not to participate.

“This board and its successors can direct spending on roads and infrastructure in a way that supports the peoples’ vision of their communities,” said Brunello. “That is not how it was being done before. This is a cultural change.”

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.

El Dorado Hills resident Paul Raveling called the councils a good vehicle to create a more representative community voice. Others involved in the early stages of the El Dorado Hills council said they hoped to involve church and youth sports organizations that wouldn’t normally engage in land use planning or county-wide community development issues.

In January Brunello stood before the board and proposed jump-starting community development with 10 percent of the county’s Transient Occupancy Tax, approved in 2002, to support tourism and economic development.

The investment would fund a county-wide web portal, community development mini-grants to local groups, and seed money for an aggressive grant acquisition program.

The TOT fund breaks out three ways. The Treasurer Tax Collector takes 10 percent off the top. Up to half of the remainder can go into the general fund every year, with the balance awarded to arts and economic development programs in a highly competitive and ultimately political grant process.

The current six grants were set to expire this year.

Chief Budget Officer Laura Schwartz released her Mid-year Budget Status Report on Feb. 20. It projected a fund balance for fiscal year 2013-2014 and a TOT carry-over of $485,000, in addition to $1.3 million in taxes collected.

Ranalli took the TOT torch from Brunello last week and asked the board to extend the six current grants for another year, with a 15 percent increase, then reiterated Brunello’s January request.

The total “ask” was for $340,000 of the 2012-13 TOT funds. Daly backed the request, and assured the board that the funds are available.

Web portal
A new county-wide website will provide a one-stop shop that promotes the recreation opportunities, businesses and housing to visitors, prospective business owners and residents.

Ranalli talked the board through a proposed county Website that would provide “live, work and play” information for each area of the county. He demonstrated similar Websites in Seattle and San Diego.

He predicted that very little would be required of current IT staff. Very little of the content currently resides on the existing county databases. Seattle’s portal is maintained by the firm that developed the Website.

CEDAC volunteer Art Marinaccio praised the portal, and observed that much of the economic development effort is spent attracting new businesses, but “you get more bang for your buck in the existing businesses base.”

Grant development
A professional grant solicitor will find, acquire, and manage external grants to fund county and community programs.

Brunello cited neighboring agencies that fund planning activities, facilities improvements, economic development and even infrastructure improvements such as broadband Internet access with grant funding.

Culture and community development
Also known as “Tom Sawyer” grants, these internal mini-grants will be awarded by the board to local organizations actively involved in volunteer community development projects.

Local organizations, perhaps hoping for a slice of the pie, lined up in support of the idea in January.

The lone opposition was provided by Ron Wolsfeld of the Rural Communities Recovery Collaboration, who worried that the grants would be divisive.

“If a community needs a couple thousand dollars to get something done they generally come together and if it’s important, they get it done on their own,” he said.

Long-term goals
Area developers have long held that high Traffic Impact Mitigation Fees inflate the price of new homes and make moderate-priced housing nearly impossible to build profitably. Worse still, high TIM fees scare off job-creating businesses, they say.

LUPPU’s revised land use forecasts and the new traffic demand model provide the necessary tools for the board to evaluate the county’s TIM fee structure.

“The cost of not implementing our general plan has been crushing,” said Ranalli. “We’ve been hemorrhaging sales tax and it’s also cost us so many jobs.”

The General Plan set a goal of 42,202 jobs by 2025. At the current rate, “We’re headed toward 18,000 … and going in the wrong direction,” he said.

Creating jobs will require more than lowering TIM fees and appealing to outside businesses to relocate, he said. The county’s arts, agriculture and history make El Dorado County attractive to prospective job creators, “and it’s just the right thing to do,” he said.

LUPPU’s zoning ordinance update supports “the agricultural renaissance currently under way in El Dorado County,” and sets the stage for expanding agricultural districts, ranch marketing, agriculture support services and “ranch stays,” which allow guests to lodge and dine at working ranches, said Ranalli.

It also supports home occupation, which keeps jobs and sales tax in the county, he said.

The county’s rural charm will also attract the owners of larger businesses looking to relocate for quality-of-life reasons, “but they need basic business services, including reliable internet access,” he said.

District III Supervisor Brian Veerkamp came out early in favor of CEDAC’s recommendations, reminding his fellow board members that they’d recently heard the Tahoe Chamber boast their successes with grant funding.

In discussions preceding public comment the three other supervisors present — District 5 Supervisor Norma Santiago had to leave before the workshop began — were far less enthusiastic. District 1 Supervisor Ron Mikulaco worried that other groups, specifically the veterans, were also interested in the TOT funds.

Ranalli explained that the grant program creates an open, rather than closed system. “This is not ‘rob Peter to pay Paul,’” he said. “These grants will take pressure off the general fund.”

District II Supervisor Ray Nutting said he hoped the CEDAC process would build community trust in the planning process. “If we can get the citizens at the parcel level involved, that’s exciting.”

Ranalli agreed, and suggested “We can no longer wait until some flashpoint project or an effort the scale of LUPPU comes along to begin the dialogue with our communities.”

The councils are outreach tools, he added. “We’re not telling them how to organize or what outcome we expect. We’re just helping them come together and get organized.”

Tea Party Patriot Steve Ferry and high-profile Democrat Jamie Beutler both encouraged the board to enact CEDAC’s recommendations.

“Its time for us to take off our hats and be better together,” said Ferry.

“I’ve never seen such excitement in this county… everyone working together … from every political stripe,” said Beutler.

Veerkamp closed his comments by calling the proposal “an investment in the county, our programs and our people.”

“The General Plan speaks to promotion and enhancement in nearly every goal,” he added. “I haven’t seen a whole lot of that in the years I’ve been here.”

The TOT spending was approved on a 4-0 vote.



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