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Growth issue strikes a nerve

Calaveras Enterprise

January 24, 2006

By Sarah Lunsford

The board chamber was filled to overflowing on Monday afternoon when Calaveras County supervisors held a study session on land-use planning and the possibility of a comprehensive general plan update.

“I think it’s tremendous,” said Supervisor Bill Claudino in reference to the crowd that came out for the study session.

Robert Sellman, interim director of planning, pointed out that basic tools need to be in place in the planning department before the county tackles a general plan update.

“Ours is a field that literally changes annually,” said Sellman.

Sellman told the board that his department’s processes can be divided into three areas, maintenance, current planning and advanced planning.

Maintenance tasks are those that primarily include administration and training in the department.

Current planning involves the processing of applications as well as keeping up with California Environmental Quality Act requirements, building permit review, annual mining inspections and processing environmental impact reports.

Advanced planning includes items such as the state required oak woodlands preservation and the implementation of a grading ordinance that was requested by the 1996 general plan review, among other tasks which need to be addressed in a more urgent manner because of state requirements that have changed in the past 10 years.

The department is currently two employees short with an ever-increasing workload, Sellman said.

A comprehensive general plan update is not required by state law, but there is the requirement that local governments look at their general plans every 10 years to determine if a comprehensive update is in order.

Of the seven elements in a general plan, only one, the housing element, has a state requirement to be updated. Ordinances have been updated through the years, but have not been implemented or are still in the process of completion.

The zoning element review began more than three years ago and is still in the process of being completed because of agricultural zoning issues that needed to be addressed before the process could be completed.

A land-use element was changed in 1998 to reflect the reality of community centers in the District 2 areas of Glencoe, Rail Road Flat and West Point and has yet to be implemented.

The growth of the county and the issues it has raised regarding the types of developments that are being built, traffic circulation issues, and other factors, are those that are considered in determining if a comprehensive general plan update is needed.

The county has allowed single-family residential building to take place in virtually every zoning designation in the county with the exception of industrial, Sellman said. This has caused a problem with affordable housing issues as well as the practical issues of trying to mix single-family housing developments with multiple-unit housing developments.

Sellman told the board that the Planning Department staff recommends a comprehensive general plan review but does not have the staffing levels or resources to accomplish the task, which could take many years to complete.

A general plan update also could cost the county a minimum of $800,000. Nearby, Amador County has just contracted with a consultant to update its general plan at a cost of $1 million.

“Obviously, the mood of the public is for a comprehensive general plan (update),” Supervisor Claudino said.

Claudino pointed out that the biggest problem with an undertaking like that of a comprehensive general plan update is that there is currently not enough staff in the Planning Department and that there is a funding issue involved with the update.

“I think they’re saying to the board that the community is concerned about growth,” Merita Callaway said in reference to the crowd.

Callaway pointed to the comprehensiveness of the crowd, with every corner of the county being represented in the audience.

Bob Dean, a Calaveras County Water District director, spoke to the board from his own perspective and that of a fellow elected official.

Dean pointed out that the members of elected bodies have a stewardship responsibility to those people whom they represent.

The inadequacy of the general plan could cost the county its water allocations, Dean told the board.

Dean not only addressed the possible loss of water allocations because of an inadequate general plan, he also pointed out that there is no ordinance in the county that addresses the protection of the historic resources of the area which he said needed to be addressed.

“I’m not saying we stop growth,” said Dean. “I’m saying we need to address our past.”

The general consensus of those who spoke to the board was that there needs to be a comprehensive plan for the entire county to address the issues associated with growth.

Connie Williams, co-chair of the Lake Tulloch Alliance, a 300-member group in the Lake Tulloch area that includes members from the Tuolumne County side of the lake, referred to the need to stop the “Band-Aid” solutions to the growth in the county.

Seana Hogan one of the founders of myvalleysprings.com, a Web site that began two months ago that gives community members a forum to express their opinions on growth and other issues, said that the group is not anti-growth.

“People are agreeing we need to come together as a community,” said Hogan who pointed out multiple issues, such as traffic and water, that need to be addressed.

Contact Sarah Lunsford at slunsford@calaverasenterprise.com.


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