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Democratic-Chronicles: Whack-A-Mole

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From page A4 | January 15, 2014 |

Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part column by contributor Gene Altshuler. Part two will run next Wednesday.

The Democratic-Chronicles will be primarily political in nature. Why politics? Politics is the art of governing and not a dirty word. And because politics affects every aspect of our lives from the jobs we hold (or seek), our health care (or lack thereof), the education of our children, and the environment and our quality of life.

I want to say right up front that I make no bones about my liberal worldview. However I do not hug trees and, in fact, do not hug anyone very often.

It has been proven time and again that a democratic society requires the free and unrestricted flow of information. Proof lies in the extraordinary efforts to which closed societies re-sort to limit the flow of information they consider dangerous to their interests and preservation.

A writer makes lots of choices, not only about what to write, but the selection of facts and the emphasis given to them. To pretend otherwise would be dishonest. If I were to attempt to please all, I would please none.

However, I firmly believe that if a person’s beliefs or worldview cannot stand scrutiny, they are not fully formed. Thus, while some will not agree with me it is important to step outside the warm and comfortable bubbles we tend to unconsciously surround ourselves with, and hear another side.

Don’t like what I say, that is your privilege — just skip the column or write me a note. But I assure you I am an equal opportunity disturber. I have ticked off almost as many liberals as conservatives in my life.

So pull up a chair and join me at the kitchen table and let’s talk over coffee. Oh and don’t feed the dog no matter how much she begs.

Whack-A-Mole

Have you ever watched a kid play Whack-A-Mole? You know the game, where they use a hammer to knock down a plastic mole, only to have another pop up somewhere else on the board. They then whack that one and another pops up — endlessly.

Well even kids get tired of the game after awhile. But not, it seems, the residents of El Dorado County. Defeat a proposal from a developer to build a thousand new homes in your backyard and, wait for it, another pops up. Whack that one and …

Yell and stamp your feet at a Board of Supervisors meeting, write angry letters to the Mountain Democrat, gather signatures from your neighbors, and the proposal goes quiet for a while, and then — another pops up, endlessly it seems. This continuous cycle is the very definition of insanity.

From the 19 proposals for the Diamond Springs/El Dorado area, to the more recent ones in Shingle Springs, Cameron Park and El Dorado Hills, we are looking at 35,000 new residential rooftops in our county. Almost 16,000 have already been approved. Another 11,000 have been formally proposed and still another 7,300 are in the works. With such nice sounding names like Marble Valley, San Stino, Lime Rock, Dixon Ranch, Stonehenge and Valley View. As if this little bit of sugar will hide the bitterness of the medicine. (Shades of Julie Andrews singing in “The Sound Of Music.”)

To insult our intelligence, and in a lame attempt to deflate our outrage, the representative of one of the developers said at a recent community meeting, “Well they will not all be built at once,” as if to say you shouldn’t get your panties in a bunch because construction will be spread out over a number of years — one year, five years, 10 years, the end result is the same.

The already approved rooftops will increase existing households in El Dorado Hills by 48 percent, Diamond Springs/El Dorado by 13 percent and Camino/Pollock Pines by 16 percent. If you add in the proposed, but not yet approved houses, El Dorado Hills will have an increase of 53 percent, Cameron Park 59 percent, Shingle Springs 124 percent and Diamond Springs/El Dorado 101 percent.

To make matters worse the city of Folsom is in the process of annexing some 3,500 acres to build 10,000 homes south of Highway 50.

By the way I can actually hear the primal screams from the developers as they are reading this article. “He is a ‘No-Growth’ guy, one who does not believe in free-market capitalism and letting a person exact a fair profit from their assets.” Call me names but I have handsomely profited from our capitalist system and I am a staunch, card-carrying “Smart Growth” kind of guy.

When you get right down to it what does all this mean to you and me?

Traffic congestion
Each new rooftop brings with it numerous new automobile trips per day. We are a bedroom community to Sacramento, thus the commutes to work, then there is taking the kids to school, going shopping for groceries and going out to dinner — all involving using the car. And aside from the traffic, think about what a burden this will be on our broader infrastructure and resources, such as water.

Back in 2008, the voters of this county passed an initiative called Measure Y. This measure states that when the traffic from Sunrise Boulevard to Latrobe Road reaches a level of service (LOS) F during peak traffic hours, a moratorium on new housing construction will be put in place. Well according to the 2013 Caltrans performance report, we have already reached this level of congestion. Further, the LOS from Latrobe Road to Cameron Park Drive is at LOS E, just a fraction below the maximum allowable. We are not looking at a freeway but a 25-mile long parking lot.

County planners say, not to worry, they will require the developers to mitigate the effect of their construction on the traffic. If it were not so serious this argument would be laughable. Building bigger onramps would do nothing more then funnel the increased traffic to an already overcrowded Highway 50. And even a consortium of builders will not be able to pony up enough money to widen Highway 50 by another lane or two in each direction.

Assuming $10 million per lane-mile (a reasonable estimate based on Federal Highway Administration guidelines), the added lanes in the 25 miles from Rancho Cordova to Cameron Park could run about a billion dollars. Can you see the developers ponying up that kind of cash?

Gene Altshuler is a resident of Cameron Park and a community activist interested in economic development and local government.

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