El Dorado County’s anti-growth politics were on display last week as eight contenders for the 4th District supervisorial seat appeared at a forum near a gleaming aquatics complex and well-manicured suburban homes in Cameron Park.
Most of the supervisor hopefuls at the Cameron Park Community Center railed against more neighborhoods sprouting along Highway 50. Even the lone home builder candidate took the microphone to oppose unbridled subdivision construction.
Michael Pettibone, a four-decade county resident and owner of M.J. Pettibone builders, at first touted the designer houses he built on the “street of dreams” in nearby Serrano El Dorado Hills, the vast planned development that has come to symbolize a suburban boom on the county’s western ridge. He endorsed cutting government regulations and creating new business opportunity.
But then he added: “That opportunity doesn’t mean let’s rape the land and create homes.”
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The district spans picturesque hills from the eastern border of El Dorado Hills to the high Sierra and includes parts of Cameron Park and Shingle Springs, plus Rescue, Lotus, Coloma and Georgetown. It skirts along the northern line of Highway 50, the artery through golden slopes where the county’s 2004 general growth plan anticipates the bulk of about 21,000 new houses.
Add to that currently approved projects, and slow growth advocates warn that the county east of Sacramento could explode with as many as 33,000 houses in the coming decades – even though real estate forecasts are decidedly lower.
In El Dorado County’s other supervisor race, six candidates are running in the 5th District, which stretches from Pollock Pines to South Lake Tahoe. There, debate is centering on how much commercial development to tolerate in Meyers, where the Sierra Nevada drops into the Tahoe basin.
But it is to the west, where the county’s population boom is accelerating, that the politics of development are most heated.
The 4th District race to replace outgoing Supervisor Ron Briggs is drawing additional fire as activists have circulated five growth-control measures in recent weeks in hopes of landing on the November ballot. The proposed initiatives promise to fortify already strict county sanctions against construction adding to Highway 50 congestion. Some additionally seek to ban any land rezoning seen as imperiling the county’s rustic character.
Along Highway 50, campaign signs for one District 4 hopeful, Howard Penn, scream out: “End Developer Influence.”
Penn is one of five co-sponsors on the “Fix Highway 50 First/Keep Us Rural” initiative. The proposal would ban the county from approving new subdivisions of five houses or more if surveys by the California Department of Transportation determine that any Highway 50 segment west of Placerville is gridlocked with stop-and-go traffic or projected to reach such congestion.
Penn, a business management and investment consultant and former owner of the historic Sierra Nevada House hotel and restaurant in Coloma, is campaigning on attracting clean-tech businesses while blasting land use planning that assumes that “Highway 50 subdivision building is an answer to solve our problems.”
The initiative Penn backs would prevent rezoning of most rural properties unless it is for economic development that doesn’t include housing. The measure’s leading co-sponsor, Bill Center, is a former county supervisor and the architect of a 1998 slow-growth initiative, Measure Y, which required developers to pay for road improvements and restricted traffic-producing projects.
District 4 candidate Lori Parlin, a former library assistant at Ponderosa High School and self-proclaimed “volunteer extraordinaire,” jumped into the political fray after developers proposed the Tilden Park hotel, commercial and housing development on a frontage road between Highway 50 and her neighborhood north of the freeway.
Parlin launched the local “Stop Tilden Park” movement and then the Shingle Springs Community Alliance, joining forces with neighbors across the freeway fighting the proposed 1,045-home San Stino subdivision. Parlin is now co-sponsoring an “Initiative to Protect Rural Communities” – to protect established communities from new higher-density construction.
“We don’t want a red line on a map that says they can change our lifestyle in Shingle Springs,” Parlin said.
A Sacramento commercial construction group, Region Builders Issues PAC, is offering a rival to the “Fix Highway 50 First” initiative. The builders’ measure, “The Control Growth to Fix Our Local Roads Initiative,” would extend provisions of Measure Y until 2025 and would allow use of county road funds for improvements to Highway 50.
The Region Builders Issues PAC recently made a $2,500 contribution to District 4 candidate Scott McNeil, member and past president of the Cameron Park Community Services District. McNeil, a retired air-traffic controller and former local restaurant owner, said he opposes the “Fix Highway 50 First” measure but is taking no position on the builders’ rival initiative.
McNeil said he accepted support from the builders committee because he supports commercial projects that create jobs and a “sustainable economy.” He added, “I will not take one penny from Parker Development,” the builder of Serrano El Dorado Hills.
Parker Development is seeking county approval for 3,235 homes and townhouses amid oak-studded hills in Marble Valley and another 1,028 homes in nearby El Dorado Hills. Kirk Bone, its director of governmental affairs, said the developer isn’t backing candidates in supervisor races but will “actively oppose” any of the proposed traffic and growth initiatives should they qualify for the November ballot.
The other candidates in the District 4 race include Michael Ranalli, a retired Intel executive and Lotus wine grower who advocates preserving “our rural lifestyle” while building “a diverse local economy.” Rancher Dave Souza of Garden Valley, a former Placer County Sheriff’s Office administrative support officer, is campaigning on “preservation of our natural resources and agricultural heritage.”
One candidate, Winston Pingrey of Shingle Springs, a retired Riverside County SWAT and narcotics officer, said he was worried about the potential costs of the county’s anti-growth leanings: an aging population and a shortage of housing and opportunity for younger residents. Pingrey advocates reducing county fees on new construction.
And candidate Tim Palmer of Cool, a history teacher at Golden Sierra High School in Garden Valley, said the county needs to find a balance between preservation and economic growth.
“We like open spaces,” he said. “But how do we afford those open spaces?”