Editorial: County should say 'no' to unripe Cordova Hills

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013 - 4:32 pm | Page 8A

Sacramento County supervisors are scheduled to decide today on the contentious Cordova Hills development in the eastern part of the county. It should be a fairly easy call for the supervisors.

If they approve the development:

• The region risks losing federal transportation funds.

• The county risks creating more air pollution and traffic problems with leapfrog development.

• The developer and county expose themselves to environmental lawsuits by building on vernal pools.

What are the downsides of rejecting the development?

There will be some hurt feelings. The project's lead developer, Ron Alvarado, is amiable and well-connected in local Republican Party circles, having previously worked for Sandy Smoley when she was county supervisor and secretary of two state different agencies. He and his partners have a big financial stake riding on the county's decision, since final approvals of the project would greatly enhance the value of the 2,700 acres of rolling pastures at Cordova Hills.

Yet this is a situation where supervisors need to put the county's best interests ahead of bruised relationships. As The Bee reported last week, the project does not comply with the Sacramento region's transportation plan, according to a report released by the Sacramento Area Council of Governments.

That transportation plan barely meets state requirements for limiting greenhouse gases under Senate Bill 375. Failing to meet those requirements could hurt the county's eligibility for state and federal transportation funds.

In a letter sent Monday, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, the author of SB 375, reminded supervisors of the importance of complying with the spirit and letter of this law.

"Land use and transportation decisions by local governments are critical if we are going to achieve the vision of the SACOG region's landmark 'Sustainable Community Strategy,' " wrote Steinberg. While the Senate leader did not refer specifically to Cordova Hills in his letter, he clearly was alluding to it, given the timing.

If they get final approvals, Cordova Hills developers would be entitled to build a community of 20,000 people on undeveloped ranch land and vernal pools land east of Grant Line Road. The project would include a new regional shopping center as part of 1.3 million square feet of commercial development and a 223-acre site planned for a future university.

Supporters of Cordova Hills marshal several arguments for the project:

The region needs housing opportunities. No, it doesn't. As SACOG noted in its letter, "there is already expected to be more than 202,000 units of housing supply within lands (in the region) than there will be market demand to construct by 2035." In other words, the region is already oversaturated with land zoned for residential development.

Approval of a site could attract a new university to the region. Possibly, but the region already has three attractive sites where land has been dedicated to a university, but there have been no takers. Would a fourth site really make a difference?

It would be unfair not to approve Cordova Hills,, given that the county has issued conditional approval before. Yes, but those approvals were conditioned on the project having a university partner, which it no longer has.

This shouldn't be a difficult call for county supervisors. The fact that the issue has dragged on this long suggests there is something seriously wrong at 700 H St. That's where supervisors will hold a hearing on the project at 2 p.m. today.

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