El Dorado County voters may decide latest growth fight

Published: Wednesday, Mar. 19, 2014 - 10:50 pm

In El Dorado County, where growth wars have raged for decades, voters may face two or more dueling measures on the November ballot.

A group filed papers Tuesday for a ballot initiative it says will control growth, keep much of the county rural, fight congestion on Highway 50 and encourage more jobs. That petition drive, called Control Growth to Fix Our Local Roads Initiative, is led by Region Builders, a Sacramento group of commercial builders, architects and engineers that recently led the political fight to build a downtown Sacramento basketball arena.

Josh Wood, a spokesman for the group, which calls itself the Fix Our Local Roads Coalition, described the petition drive as an effort to allow some growth, including infill development in already developed communities, that will encourage more commercial activity – “from coffeeshops to tech companies” – to offer residents more jobs.

The group’s petition, if successful, would extend the county’s Measure Y slow-growth initiative until 2025, allowing the county to continue collecting traffic impact fees, used to improve roads to match development. It would require the county annually to report on how it is spending road money.

“There has to be some growth, so there can be some commercial, but it has to be controlled,” Wood said.

Several other growth-related petition efforts are underway in the county. The petition efforts come at a critical time for El Dorado County. After several years of recession, the county is again receiving proposals for housing developments and is working on amending its own general plan for growth.

Proponents of one of those drives this week immediately assailed the Region Builders effort as a late-hour attempt to nullify ongoing petition efforts that would more dramatically slow county growth plans.

That effort, called Fix Highway 50 Traffic First/Keep Us Rural, is led by Bill Center, a former El Dorado County supervisor and one of the figures in the landmark 1998 Measure Y effort to limit county growth.

“They want our (petition) to go away because (ours) would stop the large subdivisions,” Center said. Wood of Region Builders countered that his group believes it has a better plan for managing growth and ensuring that money is spent properly on improving roads.

The Center-led group, which filed its petition plans in January, seeks to qualify a November ballot measure that would forestall plans for 7,000 new homes in the El Dorado Hills, Cameron Park and Shingle Springs areas.

If passed, the Keep Us Rural measure would amend the county general plan to prohibit the county from approving any more residential subdivisions of five or more parcels until overall traffic congestion is improved on Highway 50 from the current “level of service” F, or stop-and-go during commute periods. The measure also would prohibit the county from rezoning low-density residential, medium-density residential or rural-residential housing areas to higher-density housing.

Both groups say Highway 50 has become overburdened, and both say the county needs more jobs to help reduce the number of residents who must make the long daily commute into Sacramento for work. The Keep Us Rural group, however, does not seek to extend Measure Y beyond its sunset date of 2018. Center said it is time to reduce the high infrastructure fees that Measure Y created.

Both sides say they have until early May to gather about 8,000 valid signatures in order to qualify for the November ballot. Both said they believe they will succeed.

County officials could not be reached for comment.

Call The Bee’s Tony Bizjak, (916) 321-1059.

Read more articles by Tony Bizjak

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