General Plan tune-up delayed; update anticipated

By From page A1 | March 6, 2011

El Dorado County’s General Plan took center stage for a couple of hours at a recent Board of Supervisors meeting. But the show ultimately did not go on.

At issue was a recommendation from the Planning Services Department that the board pass a “Resolution of Intention to Amend the General Plan.” The plan has been under a mandatory review for the past five years, and this month Planning Services and the Economic Development Advisory Committee will complete the process and present their findings to the board.

The board at the recent meeting eventually voted 4-1 to table a proposed resolution in favor of waiting for the official update this month. That presentation will focus on three areas of concern: Changes in development patterns and state laws, corrective action regarding policies and implementation programs, and options for streamlining the implementation of the General Plan.

Supervisors Jack Sweeney, Ron Briggs, John Knight and Chairman Ray Nutting voted in favor of a Sweeney motion to delay a resolution pending additional public input on the highlighted issues. Supervisor Norma Santiago opposed.

Back in 2009, supervisors upped the profile of the EDAC to include a Regulatory Reform sub-section and to include its recommendations within the General Plan review process.

The resolution itself would not have drafted amendments, rather it would create a structure that would begin with public hearings to consider initiating amendments. Five elements are at the top of the priority list described by the draft resolution as presented by Planning Services and EDAC. Many of the top items are directly tied to recent state legislation, especially AB 32 and SB 375 . Both address elements related to auto emissions, moderate/affordable housing, public transit, walkable communities and “infill development.”

Had Proposition 23 on the November 2010 ballot passed, it would have tied portions of AB 32 implementation to other issues including reduction of the state’s unemployment rate to 5 percent.

The areas in the top five priorities include:

1. Adoption of a “Green House Gas Action Plan. “Planning Director Roger Trout’s summary to the board noted that “In most cases, the GHG action plans require some comprehensive updates to the local General Plan.”

Based on averages around the state, Trout advised that the initial cost for developing such a plan would be in the range of $65,000, however, he also pointed out:

“… the completion of a GHG Action Plan could require a comprehensive update to the county’s Transportation and Circulation Element, other elements of the General Plan or implementation of programs such as the Zoning Ordinance or Land Development Manual, whereby cost estimates cannot be determined with any certainty.”

2. An amendment to the county’s “Density Bonus policies.”

3. “Amend the boundaries of Community Regions and Rural Centers, including the communities of Pollock Pines and Camino.”

4. “Develop policies for mixed use development in Commercial, Industrial and Research and Development Designations.”

5. “Amend other policies that the board wishes to consider.”

Jim Brunello representing the EDAC described a “long list and a short list” of recommendations to the board and noted that the committee’s “intent is to narrow down the long list” to something manageable that the county can undertake.

Local resident Art Marinaccio called the lists “not specific enough to address the California Environmental Quality Act” and added that “we need a change of mindset from restriction-based to opportunity-based (policies) … But this is a start,” he said.

EDAC member Kathye Russell of Gene Thorne Associates expressed concern for ramifications of the new laws regarding moderate and affordable housing.

“Affordable housing just doesn’t pencil out (for developers) and needs to be subsidized,” Russell cautioned.

However, Shawna Purvines of Planning Services who works with the committee pointed out that under the mandates of the laws, “We’re required to provide land for new affordable and moderate housing.”

At that point, Sweeney began creating a substitute motion for the resolution.

“When I suggested this resolution back on Jan. 10, I may have been premature. I’m supportive of EDAC to help make our rules easier to use … but I think we should move a little bit slower and more comprehensively on this. I don’t think we’re ready today and we need a better formulation of a resolution.”

Sweeney justified his “go slow” perspective saying, “With too many things on a wish list, our staff won’t get anything done.”

Briggs followed up on that idea. “I think I’m going to agree. It would not be good to throw a bunch of amendments out there without more public involved in the process.”

Santiago, however, put up a rather spirited challenge to her colleagues. She advised the board to “simply accept the resolution to set a course to lead to General Plan amendments. Setting a stage toward where we need to get to … and let’s embrace that we have some agreement (on priorities.)”

Deputy County Counsel Paula Frantz backed Sweeney and called the Resolution of Intention “a little premature. It’s a promise of a promise,” she said.

Despite Frantz’s legal opinion, Santiago was not mollified.

“I’m frustrated. We’re always kicking the can down the street,” she said.

The motion to delay, as approved, includes scheduling an all-day special meeting April 4 to hear a workshop on all the issues raised by the entities involved with the General Plan review.

Chris Daley

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