E-G Measures Explained in Context for Voters Benefit

by Placerville Newswire / May 13, 2016 / comments

I have had the opportunity to spend years in study and policy debate regarding the El Dorado County General Plan.  Measures E & G are related to elements within an integrated larger General Plan that guides future growth countywide.  There is no question that E & G are about growth, but without looking at the overall context of the General Plan, any explanation is meaningless.  

MY BACKGROUND

As a matter of disclosure I am a capitalist and pro-growth.  I served for a few years as a member of a legislative think tank here in the county sometimes called the “Monday Night Mafia” by detractors, but which was actually the “Community Coalition.”  Its members were high level planners, developers, builders, land use attorneys, realtors, and engineers.  I was none of those but I am a communications expert with background in legislative lobbying.  I had a lot to learn even though I was once a partner in a construction business in the Bay Area. Civic Land Use Planning was much more complex than I had realized.  There are hundreds of elements that interact and must be considered in the whole to end up with a desired product.  

Because of this background, and the current confusion of the measures on the ballot, I am providing this non-partisan, and objective, description of the background so that voters can then look at the measures in context that I hope makes E&G make more sense.   After all, most of us are not professionals in long-term land development in a municipal scale.

ABOUT GROWTH

First thing to take into consideration is the reason we have a General Plan at all is because of population growth.  When I moved here in 1965 there I was adding to a population of about 35,000 countywide.  From 1970 to 2015 the county went from 44,271 people to 184,452 by 2015.  That is an average growth rate of 7%* over the last 45 years.  Today that 7% growth rate equals about 12,000 new residents per year.  Most people reading this are one of those additional population.

In houses that is an average of 4,800 new home per year as we average 2.65 residents per home in our county.  This includes all the county including the two incorporated cities of Placerville and South Lake Tahoe.

AD HOC BUILDING

Prior to the ‘70s most construction in the area was unplanned in terms of countywide planning.  But as the county grow from about 35,000 people to about 100,000, “green” conservationist like Bill Center came to the county insisted on a more judicious and thoughtful plan for the inevitable future growth.

About 30 years ago I remember when environmentalist first came to the county and I scoffed at them and their liberal policies in our strongly conservative county.  After some time I was surprised by their inroads they had made into public policy with organizations like the American River Conservancy while I was at college.

THE ORIGIN OF TODAY’S CONFLICT

About 20 years ago a serious conflict of pro-growth versus preservation by non-growth got heated.  State law had made our “area plans” illegal and we were setting about on making a General Plan that was comprehensive for the whole county.  In this early stage multiple proposed Plans were floated by various special interest groups.  Essentially those in the building trades wanted to build anything anywhere, whereas extreme conservationist did not want any new building at all.  The names of the competing versions of the upcoming General Plan were so named things like “Full Buildout” and “Zero Growth.”

In the process of passing a new General Plan by the voters of El Dorado county, the two major opposing side agreed on a few basic principles and came forward with a “Compromise” plan proposal.  About 15 years ago this was formalized into a General Plan and voted on by the residents of the county and became the official roadmap of growth in the county in 2004.

Some of those key points that opposing sides agreed on that lead to the compromise was: 1) some growth was inevitable; 2) that all parties want to keep the rural nature of the county.

HOW TO GROW AND KEEP IT RURAL

The trick was how do we plan for long term growth that would double, triple, quadruple the county population and still keep the rural nature? 

The compromise was to protect the more significant and sensitive areas of the country from significant impacts from growth by concentrating growth into areas that can best absorb the growth.  

All sides agreed that the best place that would least be detrimentally impacted was the highway 50 corridor from Placerville west to the Sac county line.

There were many reasons for this. From one side was the ease of building where there was plenty of infrastructure nearby.  For the other side this is the area of the least environmental impact.  That being due to the fact it is already denuded of most trees and is planted with non-native grasses, a relic of old-time cattle grazing in this area.

So the result was that about 15 years ago the voters passed a comprehensive plan for the best possible future growth for the county.

AN UNWELCOME SURPRISE

But much controversy has come recently as many people that have moved into this corridor in the last decade had no idea this was planned to be the high-density build area that was used to keep most of the rest of the county rural.

It is a good plan and the only realistic way to keep the county as rural as possible.

I live along that corridor on Mother Lode Drive since the late ‘70s.   I understood that the General Plan that I voted for in 2004 would direct high-density developments to where I live. It may not be "best" for me, but I believed it is best for the county and all of her residents. That is my standard for good public policy so I voted for the plan like the vast majority of the county.

Now for those that moved into this corridor recently without understanding that this is where the growth would happen, well I get why some are mad, but unless a better Plan is made that benefits ALL of the county citizens, than I see nothing wrong with high density development as indicated by the general Plan, as it is the only way to keep most of the county rural short of stopping growth. And stopping growth is not a reality.

NIMBYs

There is nothing unusual in this current objection to the implementation of the General Plan and there is an acronym in civic planning, NIMBY, meaning people that oppose new projects nearby or “Not In My Backyard.” Everyone can understand that feeling but without a better alternative there is little alternative.

Today we have some people that don’t want any growth in the county, and we have those developers, contractors, interior designers and many more trades people that want growth.  There is also the economic issue that nearly all American economies are based on growth.  One only needs to look to places like Detroit to see what happens when an American economy stagnates.

THE BOTTOM LINE

So the bottom line comes down to thus:

E & G are designed to throw a monkey wrench into the General Plan simply to slow or stop the General Plan countywide premises. They are specifically to stop or delay a few developments along the main roadways in the Eastern part of the county. But they also removes many protections from development in rural areas.  As an unintended consequence, it drives building that would accommodate market demand to areas that are both more environmentally sensitive and also without the infrastructure like roads.  Places like Pleasant Valley, Camino, and the Divide; 

Those that oppose E & G are asking that to keep the General Plan approved by voters, as a comprehensive plan that needs to be considered as a whole balanced plan benefiting the whole county.

E&G opponents and proponents are doing a fine job outlining the particulars of each side so no additional explanation is needed here.  This is provided just to give a full and historical context for voters to consider both sides of the arguments and to be more educated voters.

The full General Plan is avaible online at: http://www.edcgov.us/Government/Planning/Adopted_General_Plan.aspx

Cris Alarcon.

P.S. I did not talk to any interested parties about this story and this is based on my own experience and opinions.  I have no financial interests in any construction related projects in the county other than the general economic conditions of every resident.
 

* Simple average growth rate, not Compounded growth. Think in terms of the difference of simple interest v compounded interest.
Growth over 45 years = 
1970 pop: 44,271 -- 2015 pop 184,452 (143,181) = 316.642%
316% divided by 45 years = 7.0222% each year.

It is "misleading" to only use a dataset during a period of a "housing bust" and regional economic depression to predict expected long-term growth rates.

Here is the historic changes via U.S. Census:

Historical population in El Dorado County, CA
Census Pop. %±
1850 20,057 —
1860 20,562 2.5%
1870 10,309 −49.9%
1880 10,683 3.6%
1890 9,232 −13.6%
1900 8,986 −2.7%
1910 7,492 −16.6%
1920 6,426 −14.2%
1930 8,325 29.6%
1940 13,229 58.9%
1950 16,207 22.5%
1960 29,390 81.3%
1970 43,833 49.1%
1980 85,812 95.8%
1990 125,955 46.8%
2000 156,299 24.1%
2010 181,058 15.8%
Est. 2015 184,452 1.9%
 

People have not stopped having births or moving to California. But an economic depression results in less housing being built and bought. That results in the number of people living in a home increasing. This also results in a pent-up demand that will be seen as soon as as economic conditions allow.

I have seen this cycle in EDC several times in my lifetime and there is no reason to believe this will change.

These are well-known dynamics.