Elk Grove has ample space to grow for the next 20 years. It does not need to expand southward beyond its current boundaries as its City Council has proposed.
Doing so would promote sprawl, eat up valuable farmland and destroy precious wildlife habitat. The land being eyed for future urbanization is an important wildlife corridor, nesting grounds for the endangered Swainsons hawk and irreplaceable habitat for a large number of migratory birds. It is fertile farmland in a region that claims to support the revival of a farm to fork economy. Designating farmland for future urbanization sends the exact wrong signal to farmers. It tells them to stop investing in agriculture.
Despite that, the Elk Grove City Council last year recklessly voted to apply to the Sacramento Local Area Formation Commission for authority to annex an additional 7,900 acres, or more than 12 square miles. Elk Grove Mayor Gary Davis has been working behind the scenes for months to pare down his citys pending application to something more reasonable. The so-called Enhanced Regional Alternative, which LAFCO's staff has studied and Davis supports, would allow the city to annex less land 4,800 acres bounded on three sides by the city and, on the fourth side, by a flood plain. But, given current growth projections for Elk Grove and the region, even that pared down expansion cannot be justified.
Meanwhile, the more expansive annexation request is still pending before LAFCO and tonight the City Council is set to debate the issue anew. Some council members want to send a letter to LAFCO, reiterating the citys support for the original 7,900-acre south county land grab. Davis wants the council to amend its request to the 4,800-acre alternative.
The best outcome would be to simply withdraw the pending application and allow Elk Grove to develop the nearly 3,000 acres of developable land already within its current boundaries. A market study commissioned by the city three years ago concluded that Elk Grove has more than enough land to accommodate expected growth through 2029. Moreover, the study showed that what the city most lacks is cohesion among existing developments. It has no community core. Annexing more land to build more far-flung housing developments and strip malls would only exacerbate that problem.
The best response to Elk Groves ambition to sprawl is a firm no. Should LAFCO approve the middle-ground proposal supported by its staff and Davis, it should first put in place tough and enforceable restrictions. Those should include barring Elk Grove from approving developments in newly annexed areas that compete with the citys infill projects, and barring new housing that worsens the citys already lopsided jobs-to-housing imbalance. Finally, the city should not allow any annexation to take place until after Sacramento County completes its long-promised Habitat Conservation Plan for the south county.
An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly stated that LAFCO had recommended the so-called Enhanced Regional Alternative. LAFCO has studied that plan but has made no recommendation. Editorial updated at 12:35 p.m. Oct. 7.