When Sacramento County approved a new general plan last year, supervisors congratulated themselves for preparing a growth document that they said would protect agriculture, encourage transit, improve existing communities and be based on smart-growth principles.
"New 'green field' development areas were not adopted in this plan," Supervisor Roberta MacGlashan wrote in a Nov. 17 op-ed in The Bee last year. "The current (housing) market is overbuilt, and adding homes to the marketplace would not help with the current decline in home values."
Yet one year later, supervisors are preparing to approve a 2,700-acre development outside the current urban growth boundary that makes a mockery of the county's new planning principles. With more than 8,000 housing units and a planned shopping center, Cordova Hills is sure to add to the glut of housing and retail space that already sits idle around the region.
Located east of Rancho Cordova and Grant Line Road on open range dotted with vernal pools, Cordova Hills has been more than eight years in the making. The developer, Ron Alvarado, bought the property with his partners near the height of the market. Since then, Alvarado has tried to recoup his investment by enticing the county with visions of a university on 223 acres of the property. The prospect of a university was one big reason supervisors overruled their planning staff in 2008 and allowed Alvarado to file an application for the project. It was also a big reason the county amended its development plan last year to provide public water to Cordova Hills.
Now, as it turns out, there is no university committed to locate at Cordova Hills. Alvarado says he's working hard to recruit one, but he doesn't have one yet. Even so, county supervisors appear ready next month to approve entitlements for Cordova Hills, a colossal mistake that needs to be headed off.
Alvarado and County Executive Brad Hudson, a big booster of the project, say Cordova Hills will be a benefit to the county even without a university. We disagree. A leap-frog project far from existing urban infrastructure could end up costing county taxpayers. To its credit, the Sacramento Area Council of Governments denied requests to include Cordova Hills in its most recent Metropolitan Transportation Plan, despite heavy lobbying by the building industry. This region has limited federal, state and local funds to improve roads and transit. There might be an argument for using such funds to support a new university. Without one, it would simply be a subsidy for yet another far-flung suburban development.
Development proponents make other claims that don't completely add up. They say Cordova Hills would comply with SACOG's award-winning "Blueprint" plan. Yet the Blueprint frowns on new development of vernal pools, such as the shopping center that Cordova Hills is planning among a cluster of these sensitive wetlands.
Hudson also claims the county has worked with Rancho Cordova to harmonize the county's plans with the city's. That, too, appears to be misleading.
David Sander, Rancho Cordova's mayor and a city councilman since 2003, says the county resisted early discussions between Cordova Hills and the city to annex the property. Since then, he said, there's been no county coordination with Rancho Cordova on road and access provisions, bike trails, drainage, parks and other issues.
"It's a breathtaking lack of cooperation," Sander told The Bee's editorial board. "Is this perhaps the product of a culture that for 50 years has misjudged the importance of cooperation with cities?"
County supervisors need to reverse course on Cordova Hills. Without a university, it is the wrong project in the wrong place at precisely the worst possible time for our recovering housing market.
The key to this project could be Supervisor Don Nottoli, whose district includes Cordova Hills and who has reservations about approving the project in the absence of a university. We'd urge Nottoli to consider the region's best interests by rejecting this project. And we'd urge readers to contact him, MacGlashan and other supervisors and urge them to say "no" to Cordova Hills, for all the reasons delineated above.