More than $1 million in political contributions from real estate and development interests couldn’t fully extinguish El Dorado County voter concerns over subdivision growth in the Sierra foothills county.
Voters in the county of 184,000 residents approved an initiative – Measure E – that will impose additional restrictions on the supervisors’ ability to approve residential projects that would worsen traffic in the county. Previously, supervisors could approve such projects with a four-fifths vote, a power eliminated by the initiative’s passage.
While Measure E passed by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent in Tuesday’s election, a second slow-growth initiative – Measure G – was defeated by roughly 51 percent to 49 percent. Measure G would have expanded open space rules to restrict residential or commercial projects near agricultural or timber lands.
Measure E’s passage sent shock waves through the county’s political and economic establishment as slow-growth advocates celebrated.
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“I think people have become more aware of what is going on,” said Sue Taylor of a citizens’ group, Save Our County, that backed the initiatives. “The general plan for El Dorado County says its rural character is its most important asset. But it just seems like we have to keep battling our supervisors for them to acknowledge that.”
The economic interests of opponents was underscored by the spending to defeat the initiatives, including hundreds of thousands in contributions in the final weeks of the campaign. The contributors included Parker Development Co., builder of the 4,700-home Serrano El Dorado Hills Community, as well as construction firms, real estate investors and lumber companies.
According to late campaign reports to date, Parker Development and affiliates Marble Valley Co. and Serrano Associates spent more than $765,000 to defeat the two measures.
Marble Valley Co. is seeking a county zoning change to build 3,250 homes and town houses amid oak-studded hills south of Highway 50 in El Dorado Hills. Serrano Associates is seeking approval to build 1,028 homes on the site of the former El Dorado Hills public golf course and at another location in the community.
Another major donor, G3 Enterprises, which contributed $99,000, is seeking approval to build 800 homes in the Lime Rock Valley project next to Parker Development’s Village of Marble Valley. Other contributions included $60,000 from Kevin Nagle, a pharmaceutical executive who is part owner of the Sacramento Kings and a general partner for the El Dorado Hills Town Center.
A Parker Development official referred calls for comment to the CEO of the El Dorado County Chamber of Commerce, the key spokeswoman for the No on E and G campaign.
The chamber’s head, Laurel Brent-Bumb, said Measure E will stifle new residential growth as well as retail construction and other economic activities that depend on population growth.
“We have a notorious reputation for not being business-friendly,” Brent-Bumb said, reacting to the initiative’s approval. “I think this current situation will have significant consequences and just add to the issues of trying to attract business to El Dorado County.”
Taylor, a building designer who is restoring the historic Hangman’s Bar building in downtown Placerville, said major subdivisions being proposed for the county’s western slope were destined “to create a (traffic) gridlock situation.”
“I don’t think all these projects we were worried about will be coming forward” before the Board of Supervisors any time soon, she proclaimed.
Slow-growth advocates intended for Measure E to reinstate a 1998 voter-approved initiative, Measure Y, that first put heavy restrictions on subdivision developers. That measure required builders of communities of five houses or more to pay for road improvements and banned any project that would produce traffic gridlock during peak community hours.
The potential impacts were never really tested as the national economic slowdown and the mortgage crisis slowed the demand for residential construction in the county over the next decade.
In 2008, voters approved a second Measure Y. Its passage renewed the 1998 initiative for another 10 years but allowed supervisors to approve traffic-causing subdivisions with the four-fifths board vote.
In addition, the 2008 Measure Y allowed the county to spend taxpayer money for subdivision-related road improvements – on top of fees charged to developers – if those roads were part of the county’s long-term capital improvement program. This year’s Measure E additionally stripped away that exemption.
However, county counsel Mike Ciccozzi said the initiative’s passage doesn’t necessarily mean the vote is a full “reinstatement of Measure Y as it was written in 1998.” He said he was studying the language of Measure E and the two Measure Y initiatives to advise the Board of Supervisors “on the similarities, the differences and how we should move forward.”
Two board members, Brian Veerkamp and Michael Ranalli, declined to comment on Measure E’s passage and its political ramifications, referring calls to Ciccozzi.