Randall Benton / Sacramento Bee

Elk Grove leaders have expressed desire to expand the city, taking advantage of open space beyond current municipal boundaries to create more room to add employers and maintain open space within city limits.

Elk Grove wants to expand its boundaries by 8,000 acres

Published: Monday, Oct. 7, 2013 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Monday, Oct. 7, 2013 - 3:22 pm

One of the nation’s fastest-growing cities in the last decade, Elk Grove wants to expand its boundaries by 8,000 acres to the south.

The city of 159,000 residents says that it eventually needs more room to add employers and maintain open space within city limits.

But opponents have raised concerns about traffic, environmental damage and other problems they say will result from the expansion. They say the proposal is built on outdated growth projections.

“We need your help in controlling sprawl,” Elk Grove resident Kathy Lee told a county planning panel Wednesday.

The Sacramento County Local Agency Formation Commission, which consists of four local elected officials and one member of the public, is expected to decide on the city’s expansion request Nov. 6, more than five years after it was submitted.

Elk Grove leaders say approval of their request doesn’t guarantee future development. The city has requested an expansion of its “sphere of influence,” or planning area, and it would still have to petition LAFCO to annex the area before approving development there.

Elk Grove Councilman Patrick Hume told the LAFCO board Wednesday that the city wants the ability to plan for future uses in the area south of Bilby, Kammerer and Grant Line roads and near the Franklin-Laguna community.

A letter the council sent to the commission last week puts it this way: “The city of Elk Grove believes it deserves the opportunity to plan for the future needs of our community, which includes providing more job-generating land uses and needed open space within the city limits, as well as the opportunity to demonstrate to the region that the city is committed to protecting and preserving habitat.”

Some environmentalists say that argument isn’t creditable, pointing to LAFCO’s own explanation that such expansions are supposed to “provide an area for a city to accommodate future growth.”

Activists strongly criticized the adequacy of the commission’s initial study of the environmental impacts from Elk Grove’s proposed expansion. That prompted the commission to take the unusual step of seeking another review 17 months ago.

Sean Wirth of the Environmental Council of Sacramento, a coalition of environmental groups, said that revised version tacitly accepts the city’s argument that development won’t automatically occur.

“It does not provide an adequate representation of what the impacts could be,” he said.

The report states that LAFCO considered some impacts from development, but further analysis would be necessary if Elk Grove proceeds to annex the area.

Wirth and other environmentalists are concerned that the expansion would hurt the nearby Cosumnes River Preserve, 45,000 acres of land owned by public and private organizations and habitat for birds who migrate along the Pacific Flyway.

Wirth said Elk Grove’s expansion also would take important land away from the proposed South Sacramento Habitat Conservation Plan. For years, federal, state and local officials have worked on a plan to protect environmentally sensitive areas in the southern part of the county. Among other things, the southern county is known for its vernal pools, seasonal wetlands that house threatened species such as the fairy and tadpole shrimp.

But Sacramento County officials, pointing to such factors as Elk Grove’s cooperative work with the county on the plan, support Elk Grove’s expansion, according to a letter from County Executive Brad Hudson.

If Sacramento County and Elk Grove agree to a memorandum of understanding before the vote, LAFCO is expected to give “great weight” to that agreement, according to a presentation the commission gave earlier this year.

Call The Bee’s Brad Branan, (916) 321-1065. Follow him on Twitter @BradB_at_SacBee

Read more articles by Brad Branan

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