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A Calaveras moratorium? Bring it on
Calaveras Enterprise: 
Time for a Time Out/Moratorium on 
Growth in Calaveras County
 
By Buzz Eggleston
Editor, Calaveras Enterprise
February1, 2006
 
"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.

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