An authoritative background on the General Plan & Land Use Measures
El Dorado County voters are faced with an election, with some very controversial candidates and confusing issues. There is a lot of history that relates to both local candidates and the growth initiatives. Not only have county citizen’s lost needed water and road projects, but millions and millions in taxpayer dollars.
August 1989, began the process for the update of the county general plan. A number one goal, reducing the previous 26 area plans, with one plan for the entire county. The general plan, mandated by the state of California, is a living, working document, with an amendment process, allowing public comment to both the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors. This is a land use guide, not set in concrete, while at the same time, includes economic, agriculture, housing, and other elements. In 1989, the updated plan was projected to be adopted by the BOS (Board of Supervisors), within three years, at a cost of under a million dollars. Instead, due to litigation and initiatives, the process took fifteen years, with voters approving the plan in 2005. A general plan that was massaged to death, at a cost in the millions. During the same time period, litigation was filed by many of the same individuals/groups, against EID and others.
The petitions for the growth initiatives, now being circulated for signatures, will be on the November ballot, if they qualify. There is also concern, that if any or all of the initiatives are approved by the voters that the county could face further litigation.
Two district four supervisor candidates, Howard Penn and Lori Parlin, are signed petitioners for one or two of the initiatives, who are also supported by individuals and organizations who I call the “suers” of the county. Your vote is important, in both the June Primary and November election. I urge you to look long term and base your vote on the future needs and wants for your family, your children, your retirement years, continued services for health and safety. Lawsuits are counterproductive. Initiatives often challenge that which voters have previously approved. We have a process and one needs to question the motives or agenda of those who continue to keep this county and its citizens in costly conflict. What is their reasoning for halting road and water projects? Sending jobs and sales tax dollars down the hill?
Now for a little documented history: In the 1970’s through the 80’s, Bill Center, president of ARTA (American River Tour Association), filed a lawsuit against SOFAR (the South Fork Project), a hydroelectric development and dams for storing water. ARTA and EPIC (Environmental Planning and Information Council), told EID, that there appeared to be sufficient water available to the district to meet the needs of double the current population – or through – 2030 – without a project such as SOFAR.
Former district 4 supervisor, Bill Center, was one of the key players in the founding of Friends of the River, who tried to stop the New Melones dam, as well as the Auburn dam. On election night, in 1990, Center, slipped on a suit that was being raffled off, and jokingly told his supporters, “This is the suit I wore when I, quote, unquote, killed the SOFAR Project.” Friends of the River and the rafting community also supported BLM’s proposal, to put four forks of the American River under a National Recreation Area. This would have put private properties under the jurisdiction of the federal government, including the communities of Cool, Coloma, Lotus, Pilot Hill, Placer County, as well as the state owned Marshall Historic Gold Discovery Park. Citizens in the tri-county area gathered together and defeated the proposal. Center sat on the BLM’s advisory committee.
Center was also the chairman of EPIC, founded by Carol Louis (husband is Ernie) and Sue Olmstead, assistant to former county supervisor Sam Bradley, who was heavily supported by the same “suers”, who visited his office often. EPIC filed a lawsuit against the 1982 general plan. In the 1990’s, EPIC became the umbrella group (El Dorado Council) for a coalition of community organizations, becoming the check book for much of their printed materials, due to their non-profit status. The Council, joined El Dorado County Taxpayers for Quality Growth (not to be confused with the County Taxpayers Association), filing a lawsuit against the 1992 updated general plan. Plaintiffs claimed, “the plan would have a negative impact on the popular white water rafting industry on the South Fork of the American River.”
In January 2000, ECOS (Environmental Council of Sacramento), the Sierra Club and the “No-Way L.A.” Coalition, filed a lawsuit to stop 59 area road projects. A $98 .4 million multi-year regional transportation plan, approved by SACOG. In El Dorado County the suit sought to halt five projects.
U.S. 50 at El Dorado Hills Blvd. Interchange – various work
Missouri Flat Road – Reconstruct interchange and various work
U.S. 50 in Placerville – various work
U.S. 50 – Construct diamond lane eastbound from Sunrise Blvd. to El Dorado Hills Blvd. and westbound from Scott Road to Sunrise Blvd.
U.S. 50 – Add westbound diamond lane from El Dorado Hills Blvd. to Scott Road/East Bidwell
Bill Center represented the Sierra Nevada Alliance on ECOS and continues to be on the board of the Planning and Conservation League. The Sierra Nevada Alliance is a clearinghouse for more than 50 environmental groups. Bill Center, Jim Moore and others sit on the Measure Y Committee.
In June of 2000, Bill Center stated that the Measure Y Committee “joined the El Dorado County Taxpayers for Quality Growth, filing a lawsuit against Sundance Plaza, a proposed shopping center on Missouri Flat Road (behind K-Mart), claiming that the move was a tactic to win concessions on paying for road improvements. Several top retailers were planning to occupy the Plaza. Eventually the developers pulled out of the project that was also facing possible designation of habitat for the Red Legged Frog. In 2004, the county had to pay $40,000 in mitigation fees for road improvements on Missouri Flat Road, because of possible harm to the frog.
In 1997, El Dorado County Taxpayers for Quality Growth, filed a lawsuit against the county for approving Cool Village, a 25,000 square-foot grocery store, plus other small retail outlets, a commercial zoned area, on Highways 193 and 49. Today Holiday Market stands on that spot along with the office of the Georgetown Recreation District.
That same year, the group (Taxpayers) filed a lawsuit against Minnesota Methane’s project. Minnesota Methane submitted a letter, formally and immediately withdrawing from the project due to the lawsuit. Initially, this was an effort by the El Dorado County Environmental Management Department to construct a methane to electric power project on the Union Mine Landfill. A federal mandated project under the Clean Air Act. The county was awarded over $1 million in grant funds for the project. Once again, in 1998, Taxpayers filed another lawsuit. Five years later, the judge ruled in favor of the county. Unfortunately, the county lost the project and millions of dollars, in staff time and legal fees.
1989, SORE (Save Our Rural Environment) filed a lawsuit against the county, because of the approval of the KOA Campground on Highway 50. The suit was settled with the provision that the county provide an environmental impact report (EIR). Evidently, this was not to the total satisfaction of EPIC and SORE, who in 1991, filed a lawsuit appealing the BOS approval of the KOA Campground. After 10 hours of public hearings, the BOS voted 4 to 1, to develop the campground, but not before attaching 53 conditions of approval in a special-use permit for the project. Supervisor Center was the dissenting vote.
The timber industry was not left unscathed, eventually leading to the closing of the historic Camino lumber mill. In June of 1990, Friends of the River, Mother Lode Chapter of the Sierra Club, and Wilderness Coalition, filed an appeal against a massive U.S. Forest Service timber harvest. This was a salvage operation for trees killed by beetle infestation, only salvageable for lumber up to one year after the trees death. An estimated $2.5 million worth of salvage timber was approved for sale that year. Twenty-five percent of which, would have been returned to El Dorado County roads and schools. Reportedly, the sale would have employed an estimated 1,000 people, contributing about $37 million to the local economy.
Between March and April of 1993, FAWN (now Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation), filed appeals against a total of 61 timber sales, between the areas of Georgetown and Amador County. In 1994, the business community, congressional, state & county elected representatives, plus hundreds of citizens, joined forces to support Sierra Pacific Industries purchase of Michigan Cal’s lumber mill, to avoid closure. Opposing the sale, were local environmentalists, representing Earth First.
By 1995, the El Dorado National Forest Timber Sale program was virtually shut down by FAWN, through the environmental appeals process. Some of FAWN’s officers were also on the advisory council for another group, the American River Land Trust, now Conservancy (ARC), whose founders were Bill Center and Alan Ehrgott. That same year, 1995, ARC’s timber harvest volumes totaled 2,073,000 board feet – more green timber than was harvested on the entire El Dorado National Forest (1,538,770 board feet). In later years, Sierra Pacific Industries was forced to close the Camino mill. SPI continues to sell land to Conservancy’s and Trust for Public Land. One should be concerned, for these takeovers that could impact water resources, such as on the North and middle of the American River.
In their fall 1998 newsletter, Friends of the River listed El Dorado County’s 122-year basic water supply on the advocacy groups “Top 10 Dam Removal List.” The 4-foot diversion dam at Kyburz allows the South Fork of the American River to flow over it and at the same time diverts water that PG&E used to run its El Dorado Powerhouse, providing 15,080 acre feet of water to El Dorado County homes, ranches and businesses. The water coming into the diversion dam and canal head is supplied by dams that raised the level of Silver, Caples, Aloha and Echo lakes.
In November 2004, county assessor records showed 65 properties owned by the American River Conservancy (ARC), some properties, exempt from paying property taxes. Three conservation projects, dipping into the pockets of county taxpayers, included the Pine Hill Ecological Preserve, Cronin Ranch and Spivey Pond. Eventually, ARC transferred their ownership of Pine Hill and Spivey Pond (home to red legged frogs) to the BLM (Bureau of Land Management). ARC often acts as the negotiator in property sales, between private sellers and the government. Their commission for this service averages 25% of the purchase price. Approximately 60 per cent of El Dorado County is under the ownership of the state or federal government or conservancy’s/land trusts, again, paying no property taxes, by filing for Welfare Tax Exemption. According to recent newsletters, ARC continues to acquire more easements and property along the North and South of the American River and the Upper Consumnes River. Always acquiring property from who they call, “willing sellers.” Might be some new prime properties available, should the “no new subdivisions” initiative pass?
This overview, is just a small example of actions by the “suers of the county” and does not come close to an estimate of the dollars lost to the county and individuals, over the last 25 years or more. There is staff time, outside consultants and law firms, contracted by the county, that continue to be common place. Estimates for the General Plan is anywhere from $15 to $25 million. Not to mention eleven years of litigation over county water rights. Five years over the methane gas project. Loss of timber sales, jobs, funds for county school and roads.
More acres will be needed to protect the yellow legged frog. There always remains the threat of takings of more land or in the case of more recent years, putting local lands and water under National Monuments, by executive order of the President, as has just occurred in New Mexico. Three or four areas in California have been listed for possible designation.
The coalition of supporters for the growth initiatives, include the Mother Lode Chapter of the Sierra Club and Coalition for Change, considered to be a liberal Democrat organization. Check out the web sites. Ask candidates Howard Penn and Lori Parlin, if they are aware or at least willing to question the actions and philosophy of those they have chose to join. Then there is one of the key players and spokes person for the initiatives, who recently requested the BOS to further delay the process for securing a long and much needed site for the new Sheriff’s office. This has been stalled for years. Apparently, this is her MO. If she and others had been successful in achieving their agenda over the years, many of you would not have had the opportunity of living or operating a business in this county today. County citizens however, might have been the recipients of better water resources and road improvements, not to mention clean energy sources.
County citizens need to raise their awareness level and consider the consequences, as well as the benefits, before they cast their votes. County supervisors can be easily reached. The General Plan, other documents, agendas, committees, and meeting dates, are accessible on the county government web site, including videos of the meetings. Remember, a district supervisor is only one of five votes. Candidates can make all the promises they want, but in the end, majority rules. I also believe, one would be hard pressed to find the current BOS have been heavily influenced by developers, nor have there been any large new developments approved in several years. The BOS has pretty much been adhering to the policies set forth in the voter approved 2005 General Plan. The same plan, scheduled for amendment in two years. In my mind, that eliminates the need for what possibly might be, a costly, legally challenged initiative process. Initiatives that at best, are confusing and requiring costly legal interpretation to incorporate and implement into the current General Plan.
We have a general plan in place, which includes a recently BOS approved 5 year Capital Improvement Plan. Be involved and use the process. This county needs to get out of litigation and initiative over kill !