Any new ideas for regionalizing anything came up against a fairly solid wall of skepticism at last week’s El Dorado County Board of Supervisors meeting. The Chief Administrative Office recommended the board consider and adopt a resolution in support of a new project known as the “Next Economy Capital Region Prosperity Plan.”
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The resolution eventually passed with three of the four supervisors present giving somewhat tepid support. Ron Mikulaco, District 1 voted no. Norma Santiago, District 5 was out of town Tuesday.
As presented by Charlie Downs, a partner in Placerville’s Anova-Nexus architectural firm, and a member of the Next Economy steering committee, the project seeks to identify and address a set of goals common to the six counties that make up the Capital Region: Sacramento, El Dorado, Placer, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties.
The Executive Summary on its Website describes the “Movement” as a:
“CALL-TO-ACTION: Mobilize private industry, government, academic and civic leadership to focus on a set of common strategies and actions to accelerate job creation and new investment in California’s Capital Region with the goals of supporting innovation and entrepreneurship, diversifying the regional economy and improving the business climate for economic growth.”
Downs described “catastrophic” effects of the economic recession throughout the capital region, citing 130,000 lost jobs and alluding to the “Great Depression” by comparison. The Next Economy plan forms the foundation not only for recovery but for a sustainable economic future, he explained. Based on what he calls “the unique aspects of our region,” he highlighted the existing food and agriculture industries, great universities, a rapidly growing health services industry and a culture/lifestyle that is attracting the best and brightest.
“Smart, young, energetic entrepreneurs” represent the engine driving the new economy, he said. He particularly noted Cate Dyer, founder of Stem Express, a biomedical-related research firm that recently relocated to Placerville.
“We’re not attracting the next Intel, but rather start-up, small, special manufacturing companies,” Downs said.
Supervisors Ray Nutting, District 2 and Ron Briggs, District 4, while not attacking the messenger, immediately challenged the message.
“The economy grows from the land up rather than from the region down,” Nutting said. “The economy starts with the people on a parcel of land, and it’s our old economy that we ought to showcase. But it has been redefined by outside interests.”
Nutting further pointed out that “53 percent of El Dorado County is under federal or state control” which many believe has severely limited traditional extraction industries such as logging and mining. Later in the discussion, Nutting cited SNUBA International that was founded and is still headquartered in the county and said, “The region needs to know we’re in the new economy, and the government needs to get out of the way.”
“Every time we do something regionally, we seem to get more cars and more smog,” Briggs weighed in. “I don’t want to be a hermit … but we’ll be fighting for our old economies long after I’m gone.”
Downs agreed in part with both perspectives but added, “The bottom line is that we’re creating a framework (of commerce and jobs to prevent) retail leakage. Money is spent where people are working, and that’s not here. And we have to focus on where our infrastructure is (generally the Highway 50 Corridor) and not spread it out.”
It is estimated that El Dorado County loses up to $2 billion per year in sales and tax revenue that is spent “down the hill” especially by residents who commute to work out of the county. “Retail Leakage” has become the name of that reality.
Executive Director of the El Dorado County Chamber of Commerce Laurel Brent-Bumb expressed complete support for the concept Downs had described, especially that of clean, high-tech industry.
“What are we and the Corridor going to look like?” she asked rhetorically. “Not juice bars on every corner.” Playing on both old and new economies, Brent-Bumb quipped, “We don’t export agriculture. We import consumers.”
During the public comment period, a small but palpably hostile number of audience members lost no time excoriating both the plan and the supervisors for even considering involving the county in “another” regional entity.
Valerie Chelseth, co-owner with her sisters Pattie and Janet in My Sisters’ Farm in Shingle Springs, set the tone.
“I’m so pissed, and I hope it pisses you off as well. This is big government taking over. You’ve already sold the soul of your constituents, and we’re totally outnumbered by the six counties,” the first Chelseth said.
Sue Taylor of Camino piled on, slamming the proposed mixed economy as an example of “government intervention … a public-private partnership to regionalize our economy, to remove and replace local autonomy with ‘pre-determined clusters’ just like communist countries.”
Evelyn Veerkamp addressed the board assuming that supervisors had already decided they were “going to sign on” without knowing all the nuts and bolts of the plan. She likened the situation to “Obamacare and Nancy Pelosi saying you have to approve it before you read it.”
Pattie Chelseth called the plan, “Utopian ideals couched in seductive rhetoric.” Urging the board “not to sign on to this,” Chelseth asked, “have we considered the losses relative to the gains (of being part of the plan)?”
The sisters were instrumental in the passage last year of the county’s Food Sovereignty Ordinance and have become a “go-to” resource for similar movements.
Following public comments, Mikulaco asked County Counsel Ed Knapp, “Are we legally bound to anything (by doing the resolution)?” To which Knapp responded, “not really, it’s just supporting the concepts.”
Whereupon Nutting suggested that the plan could “drain the spirit off the land in favor of the region. I’m not in favor of that.”
Answering Briggs’s question about “who pays for the project?” Downs explained that the project management is centered at the Valley Vision company in Sacramento and that the larger platform of support from the counties gave the project a better chance to attract grants and funding.
“I don’t really like the Next Economy,” Briggs said. “But I think we should be involved to know what they’re doing. I’m skeptical about the regional aspect, because I don’t see our benefit.”
Mikulaco concluded that he was “on the fence and struggling because we don’t know where this is going. El Dorado County interests are different than these other counties, especially Sacramento,” he said.
No follow-up to the issue was suggested, and the resolution simply becomes part of the board’s record.
Thursday afternoon, responding to a request for additional comment, Downs spoke at some length with the Mountain Democrat.
“At times I’m dumbfounded both by our leaders and our citizens,” he said. “They seem to be motivated by fear, fear of the government, which I think is an unhealthy climate in the country as a whole. This conspiracy fear is bizarre. The beauty of democracy is shown in local government and it’s a pretty remarkable dynamic.”
Downs continued, saying the notion that the county can remain isolated from the region “is beyond me, and it’s based on unfounded fear and emotion (and part of a wider belief) that there’s a government-sponsored conspiracy to take our freedoms. I’m just puzzled by their reaction.”
In the past, Taylor and others have strongly urged the county to withdraw from organizations such as the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG) and other region-based entities. Much of the value of the larger groups is connected to acquiring federal and state grant funds for numerous public works projects. However, some suggest that El Dorado County can and should be more autonomous and less willing to accept “outside” money, influence and the strings that may be attached to them.
Contact Chris Daley at 530-344-5063 or [email protected]. Follow @CDaleyMtDemo.