Time for a Time Out/Moratorium on
Growth in Calaveras County
By Buzz Eggleston
Editor, Calaveras Enterprise
"Now, therefore, be it resolved by the Board of Supervisors of the
County of Amador, State of California, that said Board does hereby
prohibit acceptance of applications for general plan amendments
and zone changes .." Aug. 30, 2005
The word "moratorium" can be a scary thing. It sends shudders through
those who make a living in the building industry and among some whose
livelihoods are tied to a community's growth. But to others it's an appealing
word for a number of reasons. When people feel that things are out of whack,
when government planners are overwhelmed, when elected officials seem to be
making decisions without a roadmap, when open space can evaporate before
our eyes, when roads are in decay and the money's not there to build or fix them,
when water is being trucked in to some places, when ..
It's not surprising that the "M" word emerged during last week's
crowded Calaveras County supervisors study session on land use.
There's a feeling that if we don't change course parts of our county
will mirror what's happened in so many other places, that we'll be
overrun by ill-planned growth, and that our sense of wonder at these
wooded hills and grassy expanses will become just a memory.
The "M" word arose in Amador County, our northern neighbor, last year.
Supervisors there decided that "granting, or denying . piecemeal
General Plan amendments and zone changes is contrary to the public welfare .."
Calaveras County today embraces piecemeal development, so much so that
developers present their plans as done deals. Absence of process has
become the process.
Amador's situation is not quite the same as ours. The major difference:
Amador has five incorporated cities, Calaveras only one. That limits
the domain of Amador County's supervisors to the outskirts of developing
towns and the rural areas beyond. Town councils still decide what's to
happen within their communities.
The upside of that situation is that Amador County's moratorium, if
anything, encourages development of "in-fill," construction in areas
where an infrastructure of roads, water and electricity already exists.
In Calaveras County's case, developments seem planned willy-nilly,
literally emerging from the gray areas of the existing general plan,
scattered across the rural landscape like isolated South Sea islands.
As more of them emerge, they raise the sea level across the region,
creating unpredicted waves of change.
One proposal, it's been pointed out, would bring 1,000 new homes near
Valley Springs to land that today's general plan shows as agricultural.
Another near Lake Tulloch calls for 253 homes, again on agricultural land.
Other mega-developments are mapped in Copperopolis, while smaller ones
are scattered across the landscape. If the framers of our general plan
thought dense development on these lands was not a good idea, when did that change?
There are lessons we can learn from Amador's experiences, as well as
from any of the numerous California counties that also are grappling with
growth and development issues, and more specifically with updating
outdated general plans.
General plans and the zoning maps that complement them are the key to
how people can use land. The two should match and changes to them
should be the rare exception, not the rule. The public should have considerable
opportunity to shape them.
Amador County, said Pat Blacklock, its administrative officer, has raised
application fees to recover the full cost of processing development applications.
It's also set mitigation fees, and, to create a fund for the next general plan review
a decade or more from now, it has adopted a fee on all new development.
Developers should pay full freight, including the cost of offsetting the long-term,
cumulative impact of what they plan to build.
Otherwise, all of us are subsidizing their profits. "Thriftiness," Blacklock said,
is the key to having the money to do a general plan review. But it sounded to
me that it's more like thoughtfulness
and thinking ahead.
Amador also has mapped a strategy to pay for its present general plan
review, which is a three-year process. It budgets what's needed year by
year. "We've been looking at other counties that are doing it to learn what
they' ve learned from it," he said.
Calaveras County should do the same. We are at a crossroads in the
county history, without a clear map to the future. The public is growing
increasingly alarmed at the scope of the problems we face and more
aware of what is at stake.
Many are calling for what is called "smart growth," while some are
saying that term is simply a code for stopping all development. It's not.
"Smart growth is development that serves the economy, the community,
and the environment. It changes the terms of the development debate away
from the traditional growth/no growth question to 'how and where should
new development be accommodated,'" the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says.
Calaveras needs smart growth, it needs a new general plan, and it
needs a moratorium now.