Placerville Newswire Recommends a NO vote on Measures E-G Explained

by Placerville Newswire / Jun 05, 2016 / comments

The Placerville Editorial Board has not taken a position on any candidate or legislation for the June election, but due to the confusion on two critical measures that will have a dramatic effect on the lifestyle and quality of life in the county, we are now recommending a “NO” vote on both measures E and G and we explain why.

Legislation is often written to confuse the voter and these are classic examples of that kind of ploy.  Not only are they obtuse and poorly written, the motives behind them are called into question.  Two examples of this kind of issue include a statewide referendum that was passed by a majority of voters that said a marriage is between a man and a woman, but that never went into effect because it was written in a manner that violated the State Constitution.  Another example is a Referendum passed called “Safe Streets and Schools” but really was a law that released criminals earlier onto the streets and schools.  Shenanigans in how “ballot box” legislation is written to deceive voters, or so badly written as to be overturned in court action, is well known in our state.

Although on their face our local measures E & G seem like something nearly everyone wants, internal flaws make them something much different.  Whether this is intentional deceit, or just very badly written, is a matter that will be addressed at the end of this analysis.  But it is clear that most of the specifics called out in the measures are already the rules of the General Plan and that the unintended, or intentionally hidden, effect of the measures have caused many county organizations, unrelated to developers, to come out against the measures publically.

Here we will focus on the three main issues that have caused us to make our “NO” vote recommendation: Will not stop large developments as claimed; will undermine protections and opportunities for rural lands; will cause a violation of state law requirements resulting in lawsuits stopping ALL building in the unincorporated areas of the county.

In order to understand the proposed changes, a bit of understanding the General Plan and its goals are needed.  Our current General Plan is the result of decades of internal fighting, lawsuits, and compromises.  The crux of the debate has been balancing the preservation of the rural nature of our county and the need for some amount of growth needed to have a healthy local economy. This analysis will not detail the competing issues of preserving our natural heritage and the dangers of economic stagnation, as most voters have a basic understanding that will allow them to understand the effects of the measures on our community, so we will forgo a detailed explanation of that in this analysis.

The basic result of the General Plan battles over the last 20 years is to preserve most of the rural nature of the county by limiting growth there and thereby focusing growth into a limited area best suited for it in areas already disturbed from its natural conditions and also nearby large roads and utilities like water mains and power lines, in order to limit the impact of those infrastructure projects on the natural habitat.  That means the General Plan focuses growth along the 50 Highway corridor from Cameron Park west to the county line.  Specifically that about 75% of future growth will be limited to about 10% of the county and that only 25% will take place in the rest of the county.  The General Plan is a state required document that complies with state laws but puts a “slow-growth” and “Protect of Rural Areas” approach as desired by our local citizens.

The Fatal Flaws of the proposed legislation to change the General Plan:

1) “Stop San Stino - Fail The main impetus of most of the proponents of the measures is to stop a few major developments with names like San Stino and Marble Valley.  It is expressed in campaign signage as “Keep it Rural” but this is misleading as that is the goal of the General Plan itself.  The unvarnished truth is the goal of most of the supporters is to stop these large developments from being built nearby where they live, but the measures fail to do this!  This is where the term, NIMBY, meaning “Not In My Backyard” comes into the debate.  Most people can understand the motives of people that do not want something built in their backyard that they find personally objectionable, but these measures will not get them what they want. As has been brought out in the measures resulting policy debate by former county Supervisor Jack Sweeney, these projects have already met the fundamental county requirements and are deemed “Complete” in the county approval process.  So any changes to law that would be brought about by the measure will not have an impact on prior approved projects.  These developments will be “Grandfathered In” as they met the  requirements of the existing laws at the time of the approval process.  Only projects approved after any law changes will be affected by the changes.  So the measures fail to stop the developments they are ostensibly designed to stop. [see video of referenced debate here]

2) “Protect Rural Areas - Fail”  The proponents tout the measures as a way to protect rural areas and open spaces, but that is not the actual result of the proposed legislation.  As noted above the purpose and goal of the General Plan is in fact, to protect the rural areas.  Many of the provisions are specifically to protect agricultural areas from development pressures by offering special protections and special opportunities.  For ag folks, like those that are member of the Apple Hill Growers Association want to keep their farms as farms, but farming in this county is not truly economically sustainable when competing against large agro-business in the valley.  So the county has not only passed “right to Farm” ordinances, but offers a fast-track process for these farms to have special retail events to entice a tourist economy to supplement the farmers income.  This is not making them rich, but it allows them to pay their bills instead of being forced to sell off the family lands in order to pay the property taxes.  The result of of these proposed measures would cause a loss of the protections offered and would tie-up special event opportunities in expensive and time-consuming Red Tape.  So these measure fail to protect the rural lands of the county.  

Perhaps more egregious is the misleading statements about “Open Space."  The fact is that nearly one half of the entire county is open space public lands.  Most owned by the National Forest Service or private public benefit foundations like the American River Conservancy.  The lands the proponents claim as open space they want to protect is not open spaces, but private property!  Generally private property nearby their own homes.  Private property that they want to enjoy the views of, but not pay the bills on.  They are in effect asking to stop those property owner’s rights, but still force them to pay the mortgages and property taxes.  We have a lot of Open Space in the county, but the lands in question are not open space and calling them so is misleading.

3) “We are not ‘no-growthers’ we are ‘slow growthers’” fail. The measures will stop all building in the county as it will violate state law requirements.  Certain projects like those already approved and the incorporated areas of the county like the cities of Placerville and SLT will be exempt from the effects of the measures.

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," George Santayana.

Unknown to most people outside of civic planning, the State requires that counties and cities plan and define a certain number of “buildable” low and very-low income housing lots.  These are known as SACOG RHNA numbers [Sacramento Area Council of Governments Regional Housing Need Allocation (see more)]  Our county’s mandated allocation is online via the county’s planning dvision.

I recently brought this up in an online debate with the measure’s lead proponent, Sue Taylor.  I expressed the concern that the measure would violate state law regarding low income housing, as the requirement to build roads before a project could be approved meant that it made the required affordable housing effectively unaffordable and would result violating law. She rejected my concerns out-of-hand responding that it did apply to El Dorado County. I then noted SACOG required housing number, which she seemed to not be familiar with.  Her response was that we had plenty of low-income buildable lots in the county. I then note that the city of Folsom was sued over the same issue and it was not about just buildable lots, but that the City did not have buildable Apartment lots in their planning document.  The city was sued and all building was unilateral stopped until the city fixed its planning documents to include “realist” buildable lots for low income Apartments.  She responded by asking me who would sue the county over this issue and I responded by telling her it was a state organization of low income housing builder that sued the city of Folsom over this issue.  I added that the requirement to build roads and related infrastructure BEFORE a project like this could even be approved effectively made building a low income apartment in El Dorado County impossible.  At that time she stopped responding to my questions and the entire conversation was subsequently deleted from the website run by proponents of the Measures.

History in El Dorado County shows that the last time our General Plan was in violation of State law, we were sued and a writ was issued by the state that we were out of compliance and could not approve any new projects until the General Plan was brought into compliance.  That took about three years.  It is reasonable to expect the same thing will happen if these measures pass, as it will clearly put the county out of compliance with the state mandated requirement for buildable low and very-low income housing lots.  This would have a significant and detrimental effect on our local economy and is that economic effect is why business, educations, agriculture, and even law enforcement, have come out against E & G.

This begs the question, why were the measures written so badly as to have these fatal flaws.  That is not an answerable question because it would require  looking into the mind of the measure’s writer, Sue Taylor.  But as a public figure, we can look into Sue and her motives to gain some insight into the question.

Sue Taylor is a small developer that owns the building at 301 Main Street Placerville know as the Herrick Building and the historic bar called the Hangman’s Tree.  She owns the building with her husband.  A search of public records shows this to be her major commercial personal investment.  Unfortunately for her, it is a money pit needing a million dollars of work just to make it it stable (according to engineering reports provided by the former owners).  On top of that the City of Placerville is in an economic slump and facing a crisis in the loss of business caused by the loss of the Courthouse in downtown Placerville (see bee story).  Her renovations of the building have dragged on for three years and little progress has been made in recouping her development investment.

I asked Sue directly if the fatal flaw in the measures that would result in stopping all building in the county, but leaving the City of Placerville to absorb the growth pressures, would financially benefit her personally, she refused to respond.

In Conclusion, we have no way of knowing if the badly written measures were the result of a well-intended accident, or a more sinister Machiavellian attempt of one small developer to fool voters with the complexity of the subject for personal financial gain, but it is clear the measures are so poorly written as to have a significantly chilling economic impact negatively affecting the majority of county residents, businesses, agricultural concerns, and education.  

Therefore we urge voters to cast a “NO” on E & G and to look for a better solution to growth concerns.