Opinion - The "Poison Pills" for County's Economy, Agriculture, Housing, Jobs and Rural Lifestyle in Measures E and G

by Placerville Newswire / Apr 04, 2016 / comments

"No one - not even the initiative proponents - can make the elephant in the room disappear by pretending it doesn't exist. These initiatives are poorly written and will have serious consequences for El Dorado County's economy, agriculture, housing, jobs and our rural lifestyle."

Words matter, especially language used in ballot measures and other laws. Both poorly written Measures E and G contain "poison pills" that obstruct General Plan implementation, along with economic development, expansion of agriculture, housing and jobs. If adopted, Measures E and G would amend the General Plan to immediately prohibit "any form of discretionary approval for a project".  A "discretionary project" is one that involves the exercise of judgement or deliberation when the county decides to approve or disapprove the activity.  The General Plan defines "discretionary decision" and "discretionary project"

Discretionary definition shadow

Measure E would change voter-adopted Measure Y language (approved by 70% of voters in 2008) to require that all road improvements necessary to prevent cumulative traffic impacts from new development from reaching Level of Service F must be fully completed before any form of discretionary approval can be given to a project.  Paragraph 3 of Measure E reads:

"Cumulative traffic impacts" means more than the traffic impacts caused by a project - it includes the traffic generated by all other development projects anticipated during the planning horizon. Road improvements needed to mitigate cumulative traffic impacts include all the road improvements identified in the General Plan and currently funded by the TIM Fee program - with an estimated cost well over $500 million.  Measure E requires all these improvements to be fully completed before any discretionary approval can be given to a project. The General Plan defines "cumulative impact":

Cumulative language from GP

Alliance for Responsible Planning, along with businesses, the agricultural community and the original Measure Y committee share similar concerns about the effects of these extreme initiatives. Bill Center, a Measure Y Committee member, tells the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors about his concerns in the video below:

"The proposed language seriously changes Measure Y’s purposes... It currently reads... as it would become law if passed, ‘all necessary road improvements shall be fully completed to prevent cumulative traffic impacts from new development from reaching Level of Service "F" during peak hours...' and then the added language is ‘before any form of discretionary approval can be given to a project.’ (at 3:26)

Bill Center continues:

"What concerns me even more greatly, however, is that the language applies to all discretionary projects. A discretionary project is almost every project brought before the Board of Supervisors and/or the Planning Commission, and this language prohibits approving any kind of discretionary project no matter how big or small...Either the intent is to stop virtually all development in El Dorado County, or an unintentional mistake was made...Discretionary variances are often needed to approve job centers, research parks, tourist recreation businesses, hotels, wineries, retail stores, even expanding existing businesses. The list is virtually endless. This language prohibits approving any discretionary project no matter how big or small until all road improvements have been fully completed..." (at 5:00)

In the video clip below, Jim Moore, resident of Camino and member of the Measure Y Committee, concurs:

"As you know, the difference between a discretionary project and a ministerial project is significant. It’s not just big projects. A discretionary project is a variance for a winery I want to build in Camino... (at 0:57)

 

"The language of this measure is so broadly written it exposes everybody... Because the way it’s written is 'all necessary road improvements shall be fully completed' – that’s additional language... 'before any form - any form - of discretionary approval can by given to a project'. An agricultural project, a residential project, a jobs/commercial project, any discretionary action. That’s the problem with this. That language is far too broad...” (at 1:43)

Sue Taylor, Measure E author and proponent responds in the video clip below: 

"I do know about the language... If it’s got such a huge ‘poison pill’, then let it go on the ballot. Let them do the work we had to do to explain to people what this does."

Later in the meeting, County Counsel Ed Knapp tries to clarify the meaning of "discretionary" in the context of land use decisions for the Board.  Sue Taylor tries to shut down the discussion (at 4:00).

A month later, Sue Taylor tells the Board of Supervisors that Measure E is “almost identical” to original Measure Y. Sidestepping the overly restrictive language in Measure E's Paragraph 3 (above), she says that her group "toughened the language" so that "traffic impacts do not go unmitigated" - as if $300 million in Measure Y road improvements to date didn't mitigate impacts - and to "prevent...to restrict some of the stuff".  She explains parts of the initiative in great detail, but never acknowledges that her Measure E language requires all roads to be built before any form of discretionary approval can be given to a project.  

"Discretionary" actions impacted by these initiatives go far beyond large development projects to include a long list of permits and other applications authorized by the Board of Supervisors, Planning Commission and Zoning Administrator involving the exercise of judgment or "discretion":

  • A Conditional Use Permit for a commercial kitchen and dining facility at a winery, a hotel, a bed and breakfast inn, certain public park facilities, a new retail business or the expansion of an existing business are all types of "discretionary" actions.
  • A Temporary Use Permit to allow amplified music at a winery concert or the American River Music Festival is a "discretionary" activity.
  • A Variance to reduce a sideyard setback or allow construction of a fence taller than permitted by right is "discretionary".
  • A Parcel Map to divide property, even among family members, is a "discretionary" action prohibited under these initiatives.

No one - not even the initiative proponents - can make the elephant in the room disappear by pretending it doesn't exist. These initiatives are poorly written and will have serious consequences for El Dorado County's economy, agriculture, housing, jobs and our rural lifestyle.  Vote "NO" on Measures E and G.

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