Commentary: Would you Rather See a Cow or a Condo?

by Placerville Newswire / Jun 05, 2016 / comments

[By Ken Calhoun]  OK, I think I get it. The supporters of ballot measures E and G believe developers and builders will destroy our historic rural communities with their high-density developments, bringing crime, pollution and traffic to rural El Dorado County. In order to save ourselves from this carnage, voters must pass measures E and G that will keep us rural, protect our roads and save our county.

The organized opposition to E and G includes the business community, agriculture and of course the big developer(s). They fear that the changes to our General Plan by the implementation of E and G go way beyond preventing any future developments. They believe the measures are so poorly written that, if approved, the county will spend years litigating the issues, costing millions of taxpayer dollars. If passed, the economic impacts of E and G will hurt farmers and business, decrease private property rights and, of course, stop all building in the county.

Between the passionate proponents, Yes on E and G, and the well-financed opposition, No on E and G, is the majority of folks attempting to discover the facts obscured by all the silly rhetoric. How did this brouhaha, initiated by a few Shingle Springs NIMBY activists, get started and how will it really affect El Dorado County? No one wants increased crime and the destruction of our rural environment promised if measures E and G don’t pass but is that the only outcome to future growth in our county?

Do we need to blow up our voter adopted General Plan simply to prevent a local neighborhood development? Probably not.

The adoption of our county’s General Plan was a long, protracted process that began in 1976 when the California Legislature adopted a law mandating every organized county have a general plan, which must accommodate some amount of new housing.

At the time, some areas of the state were experiencing a building phenomenon of historic proportions. Houses were popping up everywhere, adding to freeway congestion, overcrowded schools and stress on county services. Some counties over-reacted against this building boom by closing their doors, adopting moratoriums on all new construction. “Build anyplace else but in our backyard” became the rallying cry of no-growth advocates. The courts and the Legislature viewed these draconian measures as discriminatory and against public policy. Zero-growth measures preventing reasonable access to housing was unconstitutional while too much growth was reckless. That’s why today we have a general plan.

The plan is a set of policies, programs and maps that form a blueprint for the county’s development and land use over the next 20-plus years. The document addresses important community issues such as population increases, housing needs and environmental protection. El Dorado County’s General Plan was years in the making. The process included community hearings, staff reviews, approval by the Board of Supervisors, voter approval, legal challenges, revisions and finally in 2004 another voter approval.

It is a huge overwhelming document that from time to time requires updates and revisions to ensure compliance with state laws and guidelines.

Our General Plan is considered to be a “slow growth” plan allowing for about 1 percent yearly increase in population. Naturally, that 1 percent needs to live someplace, which the General Plan addresses. Twenty-five percent of the 1 percent will likely choose to live in the more rural areas of our county and 75 percent will live along Highway 50, where the infrastructure — public sewer, water and a major highway transportation corridor — exists to accommodate the county’s long-term growth. And that’s the crux of this yes or no issue.

Some long-term, proposed housing is likely to be in the Shingle Springs area and many of the existing homeowners fear any increase in the number of homes will negatively impact their community. To stop that from happening, Measures E and G make significant changes to our county-wide General Plan and pretty much stop any future development along Highway 50. However, the measures as proposed will have the unintended consequences of preventing any new construction in the rest of the county as well and likely place our entire General Plan in question. Ballot box tinkering with the General Plan to accommodate a neighborhood concern is a dangerous precedent.

It is not surprising that E and G advocates avoid any serious discussion of the content and ramifications of their proposed measures, choosing instead to vilify developers as rural terrorists consuming all our water. An unbiased analyses of the impacts Measures E and G have been published by the county’s legal team, which confirms the measures will have a negative economic impact on local business, jobs and costly litigation.

Whose open space is it? The yes on E and G signs read: “Save Our Open Space.” Excuse me but whatever “our open space” is being referenced is likely privately owned. Since when did private property become preserved open space? We have voluntary open space provided by farmers and ranchers and we have government-provided open space but “our open space” views do not trump private property rights.

We do not need to make a choice between seeing a cow and a condo. Our county is big enough for both with designated lands for each. We do need to make a choice of staying the course with our voter approved, county-wide General Plan or allowing divisive parochial interests destroy what has been years in the making.


Ken Calhoon is a real estate broker in El Dorado County.