A standing-room-only crowd of about 200 packed the Board of Supervisors chambers in Placerville on Aug. 26 to hear about and to discuss growth in the county. Former District 4 Supervisor Bill Center and Camino resident Jim Moore, known as the “Measure Y guys,” delivered a presentation generally showing how growth, as currently planned, will clog local roads and choke transportation, especially in the western parts of the county.
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Measure Y was enacted by a significant majority of the county’s voters in 1998 and re-authorized for another 10 years in the 2008 election. In its simplest terms, the law requires developers of residential properties to “fully fund road improvements that keep traffic levels below Level of Service F (F as in Failing).” Furthermore, if traffic problems resulting from new development cannot be mitigated, the county cannot approve new housing projects, according to the presentation.
The measure applies to projects or subdivisions of five or more homes if it is determined that the cumulative impact will result in traffic gridlock (LOS F) “on major roads, intersections, interchanges or highways.”
Center described the current status of Highway 50 from El Dorado Hills Boulevard to the El Dorado County line as already at LOS F, citing data gathered by the California Department of Transportation. He said CalTrans also notes that between El Dorado Hills Boulevard and Cameron Park Drive, Highway 50 is now at 92 percent of capacity and there are no plans to widen the highway within the next 20 years, he said.
Describing additional CalTrans data, Center showed a slide that reports Highway 50 is currently at LOS F from Sunrise Boulevard in Rancho Cordova to El Dorado Hills Boulevard. Displaying another CalTrans study, between the county line and Latrobe Road (El Dorado Hills Blvd), the highway experienced LOS F for averages as little as less than one hour last December and January to a high of 12 hours in April and about 8.5 in May.
As of Aug. 29, the county had already approved 15,832 homes that could be built. The bulk of that number, 7,290 or 48 percent, is slated for El Dorado Hills. Another 6,770 have been approved for areas in the “rural county.” Proposed (not approved) projects in 2013 include 3,236 homes in the Marble Valley area of Cameron Park, 1,041 in the Shingle Springs San Stino project and another 1,028 in central El Dorado Hills. Other smaller developments are proposed for Diamond Springs/El Dorado, Lime Rock in Cameron Park and three others in the El Dorado Hills area, Center’s presentation noted.
An update of the 2004 county general plan known as the Land Use Policy Programmatic Update or LUPPU authorizes an additional 10,916 residential units, however none has yet been approved. In total, the Measure Y guys’ data conclude that 34,072 could be built unless the county strictly adheres to the limiting measure.
“Highway 50 is at LOS F and can’t be mitigated … We can’t approve more housing subdivisions” the general information element of the slide presentation warns.
Looking at the issues
District 5 Supervisor Norma Santiago expressed some frustration saying “there’s a lot of numbers floating around … What are the right ones?”
The answer left her and others little better informed.
The county development agency’s long-range planner Shawna Purvines said, “It depends on what issue you’re looking at.” She was not being flippant.
The county is part of a larger entity that must abide by state and federal guidelines dealing with a host of diverse issues, from air and water quality to species protection to allocations providing for low-income housing. Different programs use different data collected at different times which may not apply when viewed from the perspective of some other issue. The Mountain Democrat is attempting to acquire further information on which numbers apply in which issues.
Center and Moore continued their program with a series of recommendations and offers of assistance to devise policies that will “protect rural communities.” Toward that end, they described an organization called “Rural Communities United” consisting of about 20 neighborhood groups such as the Green Valley Alliance, Shingle Springs Community Alliance, No San Stino, the local chapter of the Sierra Club and various homeowners associations. The larger group intends to file a proposed initiative on the 2014 ballot.
The proposed initiative suggests policy concepts that would prevent approval of new housing projects if the cumulative impact of increased traffic would result in a LOS F on any county road, state highway or intersection. The other side of that coin notes that road capacity improvements would have to be made in advance of any project approval.
The “Protect Rural Communities” element of the proposed initiative calls for maintaining current designations specifying low and medium-density housing limits within the current Community Region boundaries of El Dorado Hills, Cameron Park and Shingle Springs and “(Prohibiting) the expansion of Community Region boundaries to approve large housing projects.” Requirements for open space and recreation would also be kept at current designations.
Suggestions for immediate action include continuing the General Plan update process with policies “that don’t worsen traffic” and conducting Environmental Impact Report analysis of the county’s just-completed Traffic Demand Model. That analysis should look at the 15,832 parcels already approved, agricultural districts, mixed use development with commercial and retail amenities, affordable housing and EID water availability, the presentation states. Following such an analysis, the group advises a reduction of Traffic Impact Mitigation (TIM) fees.
In conclusion, Center and Moore reiterated that Highway 50 is already at Level of Service F and cannot be mitigated. There are currently enough vacant parcels to accommodate 15,000 more homes and “We need to shift thinking from building our economy around tract housing to expanding local business, agriculture and tourism,” Center said.
Center also asked rhetorically if there are any other numbers coming from the Sacramento Area Council of Governments and its Regional Housing Needs Assessment “that can’t be satisfied by the number 15,832? The answer, I believe, is no.”
SACOG has developed a “blueprint” for managing growth throughout the Sacramento region, which generally calls for higher housing density in specific areas, increased public transportation and “sustainable communities.” As a member of SACOG, El Dorado County is bound by certain requirements such as the Housing Element of the general plan much of which is based on SACOG forecasts.
Supervisors generally adopted one of the group’s suggestions to form a working committee with county staff that could “define the parameters of the lower growth alternative” and return to the board by the end of October with its recommendations. Another suggested goal is to adopt a General Plan Update that “results in the least traffic impact on Highway 50 and county roads and greatly reduces TIM fees.”
The majority in the audience were supportive of the committee’s efforts, and speakers generally favored the “slow-growth” recommendations in the presentation. Earlier, board chairman Ron Briggs had characterized Monday’s workshop as the “other side, the non-developer side of the issue.”
El Dorado County’s General Plan lists several priorities that involve growth in one way or another. Jobs and commercial development are high on that list.
“We’ve got rooftops, but we’re failing on jobs,” District 3 Supervisor Brian Veerkamp said. “Water is also a big issue, and there should be an annual survey of water (resources and capacity). Planning is so critical that we need to put all our cards on the table and be real about it. It’s all about balance, and we’ve got to do it together.”
Santiago repeated that “it’s all about jobs so people don’t have to travel to work” while Center and Moore both had noted that transportation options other than the private vehicle are practically non-existent.
“I can tell you what people in this county want,” Sue Taylor addressed the board. “Keep it rural. Measure Y was meant to stop taxpayers having to pay for roads while developers want to ‘blacktop’ the county. Everyone is working from the SACOG blueprint.”
Taylor has long advocated for the county to get out of the regional organization saying that many regional goals do not fit El Dorado’s rural nature.
Briggs eventually restated the board’s directive that county “staff sit down with Rural Communities United and go over the numbers.”
For a related article on Measure Y’s strength, click here.
Contact Chris Daley at 530-344-5063 or [email protected] Follow @CDaleyMtDemo.