Granite Bay has some of the region’s most expensive real estate, with big homes on large rural lots that have attracted well-heeled buyers who prize the area for its pastoral quality near Folsom Lake.
Though the area has seen its share of development in recent years, turning into an affluent suburb of 20,000 residents, some are fighting to preserve the area’s more rural properties in the face of plans by home builders.
That fight has become the central issue in the supervisor race to represent Placer County District 4, which covers Granite Bay and parts of Roseville.
Longtime incumbent Kirk Uhler thinks developers should be able to build more homes on low-density land in Granite Bay. His support for home builders has attracted a late challenge from financial planner Victor Bekhet, who lives behind one of the proposed developments and has gathered support from neighbors who think Uhler is too aligned with builders who have contributed to his campaign.
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The race has focused on whether to preserve the Granite Bay Community Plan, a 27-year-old planning document that requires most residential lots to be one acre or more. But the campaign also has grown personal, with Bekhet accusing a Uhler campaign aide of racism and Uhler attacking Bekhet’s handling of a personal rental property.
Bekhet, 42, decided to challenge the four-term incumbent on the last filing day for the election. The political neophyte said he was motivated by Uhler’s support for a housing development next to Bekhet’s home and then found others in Granite Bay who shared his concerns.
From Jan. 1, 2015, through May 4, 2016, Uhler’s campaign raised $49,400, all but $2,300 of which came from development interests, including real-estate investors, planners and lawyers, based on campaign reports filed with the county elections office.
Uhler said he has received industry support because he values the importance of housing and wants to lower the costs of development. He said government fees for sewers, schools and other services have made home building too expensive, adding up to 10 percent to the cost of a home. Coupled with Granite Bay’s large lot size requirements, the fees make builders reluctant to build in Granite Bay, he said.
Bekhet said Uhler’s support of the industry comes at the expense of residents, and cites his own experience as an example. Bekhet and some of his neighbors sought Uhler’s support as they opposed the Park at Granite Bay, which would need a community plan amendment to build 42 additional homes on a property that calls for 16.
“He defended the project like it was his own,” Bekhet said.
Uhler said he supports changing the zoning on the Sierra College Boulevard property because the developer’s investment would not “pencil out” under current limits.
Uhler has approved two projects that required amendments to the community plan. He voted to allow a car wash and retail development on property zoned residential in 2008, and last year backed the Pond Pavilion and Lofts project, which switched a residential property to office space. He said his support for those projects came after they were endorsed by a community advisory board and the county planning commission.
Bekhet and his supporters said they’re worried about Uhler’s vote on another four planned residential developments that would need community plan changes. The four residential subdivisions call for 163 more homes than the community plan allows, according to the county planning department.
Sandy Harris, who worked on the community plan in 1989, backed Uhler in the last election.
She is now backing Bekhet. “He’s going to support our plan,” she said.
Uhler, a conservative whose father founded the National Tax Limitation Committee, said Harris and other Bekhet supporters are some of Granite Bay’s most liberal residents. Uhler has received endorsements from a number of elected officials and organizations such as the Roseville Area Chamber of Commerce and the Rental Housing Association of Sacramento.
One endorsement that is conspicuously absent is from the Placer County Republican Party, which opposed a 2014 voter-approved measure that increased supervisor pay from $30,000 to $71,755. Uhler and other supervisors placed it on the ballot.
At Uhler’s request, the party’s central committee did not vote on an endorsement in the race, said chair Dennis Revell. Uhler said he pulled his request because the endorsement would not be made until after ballots were mailed and his campaign literature would be finished.
This marks the second consecutive election in which Uhler’s challenger has focused on his opposition to the Granite Bay Community Plan. Uhler and other supervisors approved a request from county planners to start updating the plan in 2008.
In addition to his concerns about developer costs, Uhler said he supported the review because the plan is out of date, leaving the county open to a legal challenge, since the state calls for revisions every 15 years.
The Granite Bay plan designates most of the community as residential or open space. Almost one-fourth of the plan area is considered “rural estate” with minimum lot sizes of 5 to 20 acres.
Uhler said if all of the proposed projects are approved and built in Granite Bay, the community will have reached its development capacity with about 24,000 residents, or 5,000 less than what the community plan anticipated.
Facing strong community opposition and a recall effort in 2010, Uhler joined other supervisors in shelving plans to update the land-use section of the plan. He now says that he was opposed to the cost of updating the land-use plan during the recession, but would be willing to back a revision in the future.
Uhler said Bekhet can’t be trusted on land-use decisions given his record with a rental property on Old Auburn Road. According to Placer County Building Services Manager Jeff Thomas, Bekhet put a mobile home on the property without a permit, in violation of county code.
Bekhet said he followed the direction of county officials, and plans to pay the $16,000 fee within the year.
Bekhet questions Uhler’s handling of a website launched by Aaron Park, one of his campaign assistants. Park created victorbekhet.com, which included an image of Bekhet’s Facebook page with posts written in Arabic. The website said, “If you can understand any of that, please let us know what it says. We would really like to know who Victor Bekhet is.” The reference was removed from the website sometime last week.
Bekhet, an Egyptian American, calls the website racist because it casts suspicion on his ethnic background.
Uhler, who acknowledges paying Park $1,000 for campaign work this year, said Park has the right to post such material. “If there were things that Victor didn’t want made publicly known, he should have thought of that before running for office,” he said.