One week after Rural Communities United filed the county ballot initiative “Fix Highway 50 Traffic First/Keep Us Rural,” residents behind the Shingle Springs Community Alliance (resident opposition to the proposed San Stino and Tilden Park development projects) filed “Protect Rural Communities/Fix Community Region Line Flaws,” which RCU spokesman and Measure Y co-creator Bill Center said might confuse voters — or worse, detract from the two groups’ common goal.
The Community Region Lines initiative filed Jan. 23 asks for an amendment to the 2004 El Dorado County General Plan, “to change the community region designations for the communities of Pollock Pines, Camino, Cedar Grove, Shingle Springs and the Green Valley Road corridor of El Dorado Hills and Cameron Park.” Further, the proposed initiative states, “These communities have established rural commercial, residential, agricultural and recreational character that are not compatible with new ‘high-intensity urban and suburban type development’ projects.”
“The Green Valley Alliance has been working to amend the Community Region lines as well, and our understanding is that it will be addressed in the Environmental Impact Review due out late in February,” said Green Valley Alliance spokeswoman and proponent of the RCU initiative Ellen Van Dyke. “Multiple initiatives can definitely be confusing, and a lot of effort, and the Community Region issue is supposed to be handled by the board this year. Obviously their group did not feel confident this would happen and are taking matters into their own hands. The supervisors could help by making the change in a timely manner.”
Reached by e-mail, Lori Parlin, Shingle Springs resident and District 4 supervisorial candidate and one author of the Shingle Springs Community Alliance Initiative, said, “Community Regions are an ill-conceived and poorly understood aspect of the General Plan that could create a wall of sprawl of high-density residential development along the Highway 50 corridor throughout the county. It would obliterate the unique character of individual communities in the county regardless of the wishes of current residents to keep their communities rural.
“Four years ago the Board of Supervisors promised to eliminate the Community Region designation for Camino, Cedar Grove and Pollock Pines and they still haven’t done it,” she said. “Recently the county planning staff distorted the original community-based proposal to instead change the entire Camino-Pollock Pines CRL to one giant Rural Center. This violates the General Plan policy excluding low- and medium-density residential land-use areas from Rural Centers. In the General Plan, Rural Centers are smaller commercial and multi-family and small lot residential areas intended to serve the surrounding rural area. This was a clear signal to the Shingle Springs community that the Board of Supervisors cannot be trusted to do what the community asks. Instead voters will have to take direct action through the initiative.”
“We’re baffled and more than concerned about the filing of the Community Region Line Initiative,” said Center. “Our initiative will stop San Stino and Dixon Ranch. We don’t see the need for another and are concerned because they filed it so soon after. It could confuse the public. The whole county isn’t affected by it, but they’ll have to collect signatures from all over the county. Our initiative is for everyone. By 2018 Measure Y will have run its course and we want to take care of Highway 50 and protect jobs.”
RCU filed its initiative even though supporters gained momentum in recent months. Partner Green Valley Alliance sent an e-mail to subscribers in early January stating, “We believe our supervisors are now listening.”
Even so, Center said they filed the ballot initiative because, “We feel like we’ve been in trench warfare with staff trying to get them to acknowledge that Highway 50 is at LOS F,” he said. “And the board has voted more than once not to consider early denials of projects that have already applied.
“With a potential 17,000 additional single-family home lots that could be approved in addition to the 16,000 that have already been approved, we felt it was time for the public to be able to weigh in on this issue which is clearly of countywide importance,” Center said. “We’ve written an initiative that is simple and clear. It will force the county to keep the promise that was made to fix traffic and control growth.”
RCU has begun collecting 7,200 signatures needed by July to place the initiative on the November ballot.
Proponents of Measure Y have long argued more rooftops won’t bring more jobs, but instead a focus should be on tourism and lower traffic mitigation fees to attract more businesses to the county. “We don’t think a small grocery store owner in Georgetown should have to pay $10 per square foot in TIM fees for commercial expansion,” said Center. “It’s not about money.”
At the crux of the issue is still traffic and various interpretations of how bad it is. In a Jan. 8 letter to the Mountain Democrat, Center wrote, “Staff’s refusal to accept Caltrans’ determination that Highway 50 is currently at Level of Service F (gridlock), and that even with all planned improvements Highway 50 traffic will only get worse over the next 20 years, is inexplicable. It does the board and the public no favors when staff is not presenting the truth in a clear and unvarnished fashion.”
Center argued, it’s pointless for the county to continue collecting millions in Highway 50 TIM fees.
“Caltrans said there are no plans to improve the capacity of Highway 50 in the next 20 years,” said Center, referring to a Caltrans letter submitted to the board. “We’re frustrated with county staff saying that it can be fixed and they keep collecting more money for TIM fees.”
Significant road improvements like construction of the Silva Valley interchange still won’t fix the big problem — Highway 50, Center said. “While any interchange that’s built or improved upon will make it easier for cars to get on and off the freeway, it’s not going to make Highway 50 less congested,” he asserted. “Ninety-five percent of the county roads are in great shape, so we don’t need to collect $50 million to fix them. And why collect money for Highway 50 when Caltrans said they can’t add more capacity lanes?”
Meanwhile developers remain quiet. Kirk Bone of Parker Development said they’ll comment after EIRs for proposed projects — including Marble Valley and Gallo’s Lime Rock — are complete in early spring.
Parlin said she believes the two initiatives may work together for the common good.
“While the RCU initiative and the Shingle Springs Community Alliance CRL initiative were filed separately, we believe they share a common purpose — to bring the 2004 General Plan more in line with its espoused intent, to keep El Dorado County rural,” she said. “We share a vision of balanced growth in keeping with available resources. We share the goal of heading off large-scale, massively imbalanced residential development projects that will gridlock our roads and kill locally based businesses, industries and agricultural and recreation jobs that are the keys to El Dorado County’s current and future economy. We hope that together they will create a strong and unified message that will bring county voters to the polls in November 2014 to protect and preserve the quality of life and economic security of El Dorado County.”