“Build it and they will come,” was the catchphrase of the movie “Field of Dreams.” El Dorado County’s version is something like: ”Don’t build it and they won’t come, but if they do, then we’ll have to build it anyway. But, if we build it and they don’t come, someone will be out a lot of money.”
In the throes of a longstanding struggle about when or if new road improvements will attract higher growth or whether higher growth will necessitate extensive road improvements, the county continues to be stymied about what to do. And which should come first? And who decides? And mostly, who pays? And how?
Since 1998, the voter-approved Measure Y has dictated that developers of single-family residential projects that would significantly impact the level of service on local roads must pay for needed improvements. Toward that end, the county has been collecting millions of dollars in Traffic Impact Mitigation fees from would-be developers.
Back in 1998, the county’s growth potential was estimated to be something approaching the Oklahoma Land Rush. However, reality has since brought growth and development to a near stand-still. Projections that development in the South County would sooner rather than later necessitate turning Pleasant Valley Road into a four-lane thoroughfare have largely fallen by the wayside.
Given the reality of the past several years, El Dorado County Supervisors are re-looking at the effects of Measure Y and the computer models that still say significant growth and population density must be the driving force in the county’s long-range planning. Since the start of the current fiscal year only 40 building permits have been issued. While that number puts the county ahead of its forecast 80 permits for the whole year, six and seven years ago, 7,000 building permits had become the norm.
Sept. 4, supervisors got an update from the county Department of Transportation on the current state of the county’s TIM fee program and the Capital Improvement Program. Despite reductions in TIM fees in 2012 of from 11 percent to 22 percent in some areas, supervisors have clamored for further cuts, believing that may help stimulate growth.
Claudia Wade, a senior civil engineer at DOT gave a slide presentation to the board pointing out that one way to reduce fees would be to delay or remove road/bridge projects from consideration that have been on DOT’s books for some time.
She also explained, however, that any such action would or could involve a host of other issues and considerations. Economic development, land-use entitlements, political pressure, Oak Woodlands Management as well as local and state regulations and guidelines may have to be taken into account, Wade said.
In short, the TIM fee program and the CIP program are part of the larger issue of the county’s General Plan. The former are typically updated every year, while the General Plan is only reviewed and updated every five years. In addition, TIM and CIP projects are driven by a Travel Demand Model, which also is subject to regular updates, according to the General Plan.
Supervisor Jack Sweeney said he “didn’t want to take DOT engineers to school… but I’m telling you, you need a dose of reality. You’ll report a bunch of numbers (based on computer models)… And what we need is one meeting to say, ‘Yup, that’s real, and no that’s not real. We’ve got a number of projects on the TIM fee list that will never happen,” Sweeney said.
He further complained that information regarding future population density and a projected need for road improvements is based on hypothetical numbers. And over the years, TIM fees have been calculated using those projections.
“When do I get to say, ‘Here’s reality?’ We don’t need four-lane roads because there’s not going to be big development (especially in the South County),” Sweeney declared.
Supervisor Ray Nutting described the dilemma of having parcels that could be developed on or near roads that may or may not be able to handle the impact.
“How to match infrastructure to possible future density has to be considered,” Nutting said. “The Pleasant Valley area can’t be overdeveloped because of Pleasant Valley Road’s infrastructure. With good balance TIM fees should go down. We need to look 20 years or 100 years out and see tens of thousands of new homes to warrant and to pay for road expansion,” he said.
DOT staff will be back before the board in October with updated details of the Traffic Demand Model, Wade wrote in an email to the Mountain Democrat Wednesday. She also briefly described a complicated system by which TIM fees are reduced depending upon geographical and development zones within the county.
Because of its complexity, Supervisor Norma Santiago advised her fellow board members to hold off major decisions on the issues until after Jan. 1, 2013, when District 1 supervisor-elect Ron Mikulaco and the winner of November’s election for District 3 take office. She suggested that a “special orientation” be conducted for the whole board after that time.