The El Dorado County Board of Supervisors took a tentative step toward altering how the process of future development might unfold. A 12-hour special board meeting Monday, Sept. 30, concluded with a 4-1 vote to create a new policy that will require development proposals to be submitted for early review by the Board of Supervisors.
District 3 Supervisor Brian Veerkamp was opposed. He and District 1 Supervisor Ron Mikulaco earlier proposed that a future review policy also apply retroactively to recently approved projects. That motion was defeated 3-2.
The proposed change would be incorporated into the county’s Draft General Plan Amendment Initiation Policy, because several of the large projects in question have required either a General Plan amendment or a rezoning in order to gain approval to move forward.
Spurred by ongoing controversy over a number of large residential development projects, supervisors also directed county staff to create a policy for timely notification of neighbors and other residents who might be affected by increased traffic, especially on narrow country roads or other foreseeable results of significant population increases in relatively small areas. The rise of grass-roots organizations such as No San Stino, Shingle Springs Community Alliance and the Green Valley Alliance has led to petition drives gaining hundreds of signatures from neighborhood residents, veiled threats of lawsuits and a movement for a ballot initiative to renew the county’s twice-approved Measure Y traffic impact restrictions.
Opposition to the proposed large developments has centered primarily on issues related to traffic congestion and concern for a loss of rural atmosphere in some areas that traditionally have been zoned for and occupied by single-family residences on parcels of 5 acres or more.
Board Chairman Ron Briggs responded by phone to the Mountain Democrat’s request for comment on the board’s actions and called the event part of a “major overhaul of everything.” Everything includes the General Plan update. Are the assumptions and policies correct; are the road sizes adequate; should old county ordinances be wrapped into the Land-Use Policy Programmatic Update (LUPPU)? Briggs mused.
The citizen opposition groups “came forward with some big concepts, and we didn’t quite get whether we were applying the General Plan consistently,” he said. “We’d been finding what needs to be mitigated and referring it back to the developers, but the neighbors and residents have become concerned and interested.”
The mandatory early review process is a “clear message to developers (a significant number of whom were in the room) that says, ‘Hey, guys, you need to do a much better job upfront.’” That also ties in to the early, enhanced notification process, he said. The board anticipates that the review policy, as envisioned, is likely to be a “thumbs up or thumbs down” action. The devil in the details, however, could be that the developer proposing 1,000 homes this week could come back next week proposing a project of 900 houses instead, Briggs suggested.
“I’m not sure how the early review policy will work, although we do have examples from other counties. I see the concept as one of not wasting a developer’s time and money, but it’s definitely a communications problem. At what mark do we lay the standard down?” Briggs said.
He acknowledged that “most homeowners and those represented in the audience were looking for immediate relief (from San Stino, Marble Valley, Dixon Ranch and other currently approved, large residential projects).” However, along with Briggs, Supervisors Ron Mikulaco and Ray Nutting, both of whom also called the Mountain Democrat during the week, eventually suggested that “changing the rules in the middle of the game would not be fair.” Board action thus offers little comfort to those hoping for a delay or halt to those projects under way.
Nutting noted that the county has a current inventory of 20,000 parcels, which “is enough within the planning horizon, and that volume negates the need for amendments to get more. We need an earlier review of existing applications that would change the General Plan.”
Future growth projected at about 1.3 percent per year should at least open a discussion about the adequacy of the current inventory, Nutting said. Regarding his vote on the final motion, Nutting said, “The last thing the board wants to do is start over with a new General Plan. Amendments might be for the future or for work with existing parcels (however, with respect to future applications) everyone needs to be treated equally.”
Mikulaco said, “I live in a world of compromise,” and he believes requiring builders to come before the board for a conceptual advisory vote (prior to a General Plan amendment or rezone request) will give supervisors an opportunity to hear from “both ends of the spectrum.” Again, he noted that such review could not be applied to current applications that have been approved in the interest of fairness to everybody. Countering comments — that he is “in the pocket of developers” — he said took him by surprise, Mikulaco said he opposed the only development proposed in the El Dorado Hills district since taking office last January and quipped, ”I’m not in the pocket of developers, I’m in the pocket of District 1.”
Finally, describing the marathon meeting on Sept. 30, Mikulaco said, “given what was at stake, ‘major stuff,’ it was quite civil.”
Civil may describe the meeting, but it should not be confused with agreement by other interested parties.
Ellen Van Dyke, a member of the Green Valley Alliance opposing the Dixon Ranch and other nearby developments wrote in part:
“On Monday, Sept 30, (what she earlier called “a travesty”) the EDC Board of Supervisors turned down a viable option to stop processing proposed subdivisions that are in violation of voter-approved Measure Y. The data in the Sept 26 presentation by Bill Center and Jim Moore, demonstrating why these projects are in violation, was confirmed in a Caltrans letter to the county’s acting director for the Community Development Agency, Kim Kerr.”
The Sept. 26 presentation by Center and Moore referenced by Van Dyke included Measure Y guidelines specifying that new developments that would reduce (or maintain current) Level of Service on local roads to a level of “F” would have to be mitigated by developers prior to beginning their projects. The Caltrans letter to Kim Kerr notes in part that Highway 50 from the county line to El Dorado Hills Boulevard is currently experiencing LOS F during peak commute hours, while the highway from the county line to Cameron Park Drive is currently at level “E” and perhaps not far from “F” during peak hours. Similar projections apply in areas where proposed residential developments could top several thousand new homes and their concomitant increases in traffic, according to opposition groups.
While no target date was set for staff to complete the draft policy, Briggs earlier noted that sooner would be better than later and expected that the board would see the working draft by the end of the month.