The largest implementation measure of the 2004 General Plan will soon enter the hearing process alongside four major western El Dorado County residential development projects.
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County supervisors hint that they want a “timeout,” but don’t want to deny anyone’s due process.
With that backdrop, the number of approved parcels in the 2004 General Plan and the plan’s housing projections have been called into question.
One point of confusion is the seemingly huge quantity of “approved parcels” that have yet to be built. Slow-growth activists Bill Center, Jim Moore and others have argued that no new projects should be approved until 20,000 “approved parcels” in the current General Plan are built. Center and Moore argue that the owners of those approved parcels merely have to show up at the Planning Department to get their building permit. If and when they do, congestion would surely ensue.
Principal Planner Shawna Purvines explained that a theoretical 20,854 dwelling units from the draft 2013-20 Housing Element is a “greatest realistic capacity,” and includes 3,724 parcels in Tahoe, thus not subject to the county General Plan, and 6,000 in rural areas, many the result of past land designation changes with little or no restrictions.
“Historically, we haven’t seen them built to their realistic capacity,” Purvines said.
Many would require a subdivision, which would require much more analysis and compliance than a simple building permit, she continued; a public hearing is required.
The June 27 El Dorado County Board of Supervisors workshop will include a presentation from the Community Economic Development Advisory Committee addressing the matter with specific numbers, according to Purvines.
She confirmed that the new traffic model will factor in a portion of the approved parcels and establish a baseline upon which to measure the impacts of proposed projects.
The 2004 General Plan’s 32,000-dwelling growth projection is also a point of contention.
A 2011 progress report found that 12,000 of the 32,000 dwellings had been built since the plan’s approval, leaving roughly 20,000 dwellings remaining for the life of the plan, which is now expected to be roughly 2035, depending on how fast homes are built.
Moore has said in the past that growth projections in the current General Plan are overstated by a factor of three. An examination of the actual numbers doesn’t bear out his statements.
“Both the state (Department of Finance) and SACOG have lowered growth projections for El Dorado County by two-thirds,” Moore said at a community meeting. “If we can get the 20-year growth projections down from 32,000 to 12,000 … That’s how we lower the TIM fees. They need to be lower by two thirds.”
The latest Department of Finance projections for El Dorado County are only 6 percent lower.
In a followup conversation, Center confirmed that he would like to see growth projections reflect an additional 12,000 dwellings for a total of 24,000 at the General Plan horizon.
The proposed reduction is 8,000 dwellings, or one-quarter of the General Plan’s projected 32,000 dwellings.
The reduction is consistent with those in the Sacramento Area Congress of Governments Sustainable Communities Strategy, published in January.
For El Dorado County, SACOG now predicts a total of 11,719 additional dwellings will be built between 2008 and 2035.
SACOG officials did not respond to a request for a detailed explanation of their methodology, but Purvines explained the underlying assumption of the Sustainable Communities Strategy: new residents will choose to live in urban, rather than rural communities.
Accordingly, SACOG reduced rural housing and population projections throughout the region, and increased urban projections, she said.
Planning Services Director Roger Trout defended the projections in the General Plan, pointing out that SACOG has “no bearing on our land-use, CEQA analysis or how we do traffic modeling,” he said.
He added “They are doing some great things and we try to be consistent with them, but our Board of Supervisors decides what the county should look like.”
The power of the advisory vote
Center and Moore see the power of an advisory vote on both elected officials and planning staff.
They have apparently backed off an effort to get the Board of Supervisors to put advisory measures on the November ballot for each of the four large housing developments in the early stages of approval, but Center made it clear that he hasn’t given up the notion.
Moore called the advisory vote “a blunt political message from the voters,” “the ultimate public hearing” and “the best way to stall these big projects.”
In a followup interview, Center explained the problem with county planning department leadership. “They staff their operation with people motivated by fear,” he said. “So they keep their heads down. Pioneers get shot.”
The advisory vote is a valuable tool to change that attitude, he continued.
“They tend to hunker down and take the path of least resistance,” he added. “Once they see where the public is coming from, and where their bosses are coming from, they will go in the right direction. They are scared to death of offending someone.”