“I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”
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Ronald Reagan famously rated those as the “nine most terrifying words in the English language,” back in 1986. Of course it was a spoof of “big government” being more like the problem than the solution. El Dorado County wants to help identified communities whose residents want to prepare a Community Plan based on implementing a formal “Visioning” process. The process and results are called for in the General Plan, and the Long-Range Planning Division has put together a guide, a template that can be used in whole or in part by interested residents.
The heart of the program is involvement of, by and for the members of each community seeking to come up with an official, legal plan for its own future development. The county’s role can be minimal or extensive, but there are certain laws that have to be observed including that any plan must conform to the general plan and to various state laws. Ultimately it must be approved by the Board of Supervisors. The board received pages of details for its June 24 meeting summarizing the what, why, how and when of the Draft Community Plan Guide. Under the subhead “Background,” documents note:
“The General Plan’s Statement of Vision and Plan Strategies encourages growth to reflect the character and scale of the community in which it occurs. General Plan Goal 2.4 promotes the enhancement of existing rural and urban community character. A community’s character and identity is protected and enhanced when new development projects (homes, businesses, etc.) place an emphasis on both the natural setting and architectural design of a community. Detailing specific qualities and features unique to the community and requiring proposed projects be designed to reflect these qualities helps ensure that new development contributes to the community’s quality of life and economic health.”
While the General Plan land use and zoning policies generally control where and what can be developed, they don’t necessarily describe the “appearance” or design of projects, the summary explains. That is where the community plan becomes important. In short, it is a way for the community to prescribe the looks of a project relative to the area’s environment, topography and existing development. The guide is partly based on work done by the Community Economic Development Advisory Committee known as CEDAC and by residents already involved in developing a community plan.
The program is flexible when it comes to determining what constitutes a community but probably will follow somewhat traditional boundaries, Long Range Planner Shawna Purvines told the board. The Draft Guide describes a process that may involve either large development goals or small, incremental ones, depending upon the preferences of each community engaged in the project.
“The first step is to identify diverse community perspectives, gather existing mailing lists and build a master contact list. Then planning can begin for the first outreach steps, to discover the community values and priorities; what does the community care about the most?” the guide states.
Obtaining the views of as many community residents and stakeholders as possible is central to the process. Without that significant outreach, plans tend to be developed and controlled by small groups with particular interests in the results — thus the emphasis on valid and legitimate efforts to include every sector if not every member of each community.
“The most common form of outreach in this step is a facilitated open meeting or series of meetings with surveys and other outreach tools to assist. At this stage the community should begin creating a dedicated Website to inform the community of process and store the elements of the plan. The process to reach out to the community and make decisions on the input is developed in this step,” the guide states.
The guide explains that a plan may relate to established community boundaries or cross over one or more jurisdictions or relate only to a specific location within established boundaries.
Throughout the process, the county acts in partnership with the planning group providing access to resources, information and legal guidelines. If a full, formal plan is being prepared, the group must create a system of “governance” with board approval to oversee and enforce the completed plan.
Some in the audience appeared to agree more with the former president about the degree of government help. For starters, there was some confusion as to who is in charge of economic development for the county. There is CEDAC, the Community Development Agency (CDA) and a section within the Chief Administrative Office, the Economic Development Division. Assistant CAO Kim Kerr tried to clarify which entity does what. “CEDAC isn’t the economic development division in the CAO’s office,” she said.
Kerr’s explanation came after District 1’s Ron Mikulaco complained about information flow saying, “CEDAC will give you one thing, but CDA might give you something very different.”
Ron Briggs, District 4, praised CEDAC’s work, which he called “very successful in cutting red tape, but we need to get the community involved in setting community ID. Who’s going to do the work? (If it was just about economic development,) I’d approve everything, but that might conflict with other goals or directions for the future.”
Kris Payne told the board, “I need an org chart,” noting that the guide is on the county’s Website, “but sometimes it’s not clear who is who and what is what.”
Shingle Springs Community Alliance activist Lori Parlin challenged with “I think you need an update from the community.”
Parlin complained that county staff and the AIM consulting group had relied too heavily on CEDAC regarding development of the guide, with little or no reaching out to the community. She called CEDAC a “hostile environment to communities.”
Kerr responded, “We’re reaching out to as many groups as we can,” while Briggs added, “the public has been asking for a long time for (something like a) citizen guide.”
Board Chairwoman Norma Santiago defined the issue suggesting that “we need to be sure that we’re talking about a process (for creating the guide).”
The final draft of the Community Plan Guide is expected to be ready in September. Meanwhile, public comment on the first draft is being sought and will be incorporated into development of the final draft.