Thanks largely to Supervisor Phil Serna, the mammoth Cordova Hills project has been unmasked for the farce that it is.
Sacramento County supervisors were fully prepared to approve this leapfrog development until Serna started posing tough but obvious questions at a six-hour-long hearing Wednesday. He got little help from his fellow supervisors and the county's planning staff, but nonetheless was able to delay consideration of Cordova Hills until Jan. 29.
If approved, Cordova Hills would extend the county Urban Policy Area outward to accommodate residences for 20,000 people and a new regional mall, even though the region already suffers from an oversupply of approved residential and retail properties. The only reason the project has gotten this far is because the county, under the direction of County Executive Brad Hudson, has conducted an environmental review based on the assumption that Cordova Hills will include a 240-acre university.
The environmental review presumes the university will accommodate 7,000 students and 800 faculty members, with many of them living in surrounding residences, walking, biking or taking short drives to work. It assumes it will generate $1 billion in regional economic activity, which would justify the costs borne by the county, such as improving Jackson Highway and other roads to accommodate this new mini-city.
The only problem? Developers of Cordova Hills have not secured a university for the site. They want to land one, and keep insisting they will find one. But they don't have a university. And if Cordova Hills is built out without a university or some other form of major job center, what will be the impact on traffic, air quality and compliance with state environmental laws? We don't know. The county hasn't analyzed it.
Serna, to his credit, is the only supervisor who has pressed to get these questions answered. Late last month, he sent a letter to the Sacramento Area Council of Governments requesting assistance in getting some answers.
In his letter, Serna asked how the lack of a university could affect traffic (vehicle miles traveled), greenhouse gas emissions, compliance with the state's new smart growth law (Senate Bill 375) and future metropolitan transportation plans.
At Wednesday's hearing, the county's planning staff acted defensively when Serna raised these questions. Supervisor Susan Peters, among others, asked what would be gained by having SACOG provide answers. Serna had the right response to that question: What would be the downside of waiting and being fully informed before making a decision?
Because of Serna's intervention, SACOG will now examine the "no-university" scenario and hopefully provide supervisors with real-world information about Cordova Hills and its impacts.
If they were smart, supervisors would cool their heels on the project beyond Jan. 29.
Just this month, a court struck down the San Diego region's transportation plan because it put too much emphasis on car travel, in violation of state laws and emissions requirements.
If approved, Cordova Hills could come back to haunt the Sacramento region in the same way.