A meeting of a group dedicated to reinvigorating the economy of the Divide by stimulating more construction work is scheduled for Nov. 13 in Coloma and the public is invited.
Ron Wolsfeld is the leader of the group along with Ellsworth Rose, Pastor Jay McCarl of the Calvary Chapel on the Georgetown Divide, President of the Divide Chamber of Commerce Ken Calhoon, and Pastor David Torres of the Garden Valley Chapel.
Wolsfeld said he and others came together last year because of their concern about the economy on the Divide and what they claim is inattention by the county of the problems they face.
Meetings they subsequently held with members of the community unveiled some common complaints including the cost of building permits and the length of time needed to get them.
“The process of being able to get a permit is painful, complicated, time-consuming … and also costly,” said Wolsfeld. “Sometimes the permits were a factor, but the fee itself wasn’t the biggest thing. It was more the process.
“Going to the Planning Commission or the building department is complicated because of all the hoops people have to jump through to get a project approved,” he said. “Since 2007, hardly any new homes have been built in rural El Dorado County due to the crash in the economy.”
Calhoon noted that “there is a recognized need for multigenerational housing. Even the general plan recognizes that about 6 percent of housing units should be granny flats or senior apartments. But (right now) it’s only 3 percent … the need has never been as great for multigenerational housing.
“We have adult children moving back in with mom and dad, haven’t found a job and the household doesn’t have enough money. We have seniors moving back in with their kids because they can’t afford $3,000 to $4,000 a month for assisted living or senior housing. That trend is going on all over the country. We refer to it as the ‘sandwich generation.’ We have some homeowners who have their adult children moving back in with them and they are also taking care of mom and dad.”
Calhoon said it is the cost of permits and regulations that prevent people from building. “That’s why there are only 80 single-family permits countywide this year where there used to be 1,800,” he said. “The need is there but before you turn a shovel of dirt you have $40,000 to $50,000 in fees and the permit process is cumbersome.”
Wolsfeld said because of the lack of construction, the local workforce has been decimated. “The jobs just went away. We realized that if we could revive construction, it would help these people to survive. That’s the biggest problem in rural areas, the absence of construction related jobs. It’s been a major problem for five years.”
Aside from county building permit fees, the group also wants school and fire fees reduced. Members noted that while many school districts are losing students, they continue to collect fees that can only be used for capital improvements. Black Oak Mine School District alone has lost around 500 children over the past four to five years, they noted. The group maintains that reducing school fees would, in the long-term, encourage the building of more single-family homes which would help boost school enrollment.
To stimulate construction in rural areas, the group has come up with different suggestions including simplifying the permit process; reducing or eliminating some of the fees — especially fees for building a granny unit; reducing TIM fees by 30 to 35 percent; lowering school fees for people building a single family home; lowering EID (El Dorado Irrigation District) and GDPUD (Georgetown Divide Public Utility District) hook up fees for a single family home; lowering fire district fees and easing some fire restrictions; and an amnesty program for those who have built without permits.
People struggling like crazy
McCarl said the primary reason they are taking on the issue is to “stimulate the economy on the divide and put our people back to work.” He said he and other pastors meet on a regular basis and they are seeing the same pattern of self-employed people being out of work.
“They are searching off the Divide because they can’t get work up here,” McCarl said. “The county is generally no growth but it’s also unfortunately with these permits, no improvement. We can get along with the no growth thing just fine … but the no improvement thing is in place already because of restrictive fees. So those who want to build, either have to do so illegally … or they don’t build at all and our local people stay out of work.
“In my church, we have lost people who have moved out-of-state for work or work in the Bay Area but come home on the weekends. People are not building or improving up here. There are 17,000 people on this divide and it’s being overlooked and not noticed by the rest of the county because the major population centers are elsewhere.”
McCarl said they give out free food at his church and they have gone from 75 people to 150-175 families a week receiving food. “In 2011 we gave out food to 10,007 people. That’s a lot of hungry people,” he said. “People in my church are struggling like crazy. Many couldn’t get a job here and have moved somewhere else.”
Torres said all the churches are losing people. He’s even received calls for help from people in El Dorado Hills who need food because they are barely able to make their house and car payments.
“Do we have an economy that encourages our children to stay in this area? That’s where there is great concern,” said Torres.
The group members said they are mindful of the county’s revenue situation and the fact that it has been declining for several years. But Calhoon thinks that if permit fees were lowered it wouldn’t reduce revenues. Instead he predicts improvements would bring in more property tax revenue.
At the meeting on Nov. 13, Wolsfeld said they want to make it clear to the Board of Supervisors that they are in it for the long haul and they do expect some results.
“We’re hoping we’ll see some leadership from the new supervisors to do these things for rural areas,” he said, “because they are woefully neglected.”
The group also wants to see residents of the Divide attend. “If people want to see some change and see jobs come our way, they need to come to this meeting,” said McCarl. “Their presence is part of the process of being heard.”
The meeting starts at 7 p.m. and will be held at the Mother Lode Church of Coloma at 870 Beach Court. For more information, contact Ron Wolsfeld at 530-344-0880.
Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or [email protected] Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.