Local Elections

Building, realty interests spend big to block growth control

Building and real estate interests, led by the developer of the Serrano El Dorado Hills community, have dumped more than $1million into the campaign to defeat growth control ballot measures in El Dorado County.

Parker Development Co., builder of the 4,700-home Serrano community, has donated $866,750 through its affiliates, Serrano Associates and Marble Valley Co., to campaign committees opposing local November ballot initiatives M, N and O. The money has helped bankroll a blitz of mailers as well as anti-initiative television commercials during the World Series.

Parker Development is seeking county zoning changes to build 3,236 homes and townhouses and retail and event centers in a development called the Village of Marble Valley, planned for oak-studded hills south of Highway 50 in El Dorado Hills. In addition, the company is hoping to win approval to build 1,028 homes and townhouses on the site of the former El Dorado Hills golf course and a second location in the community.

A ballot measure backed by growth control advocates – Measure M – could challenge Parker Development’s plans. Measure M would ban any new residential subdivisions in the county if the California Department of Transportation determines that any stretch of Highway 50 west of Placerville is at or is forecast to reach gridlock traffic levels. The measure also would prevent the county from rezoning rural residential properties for higher-density housing construction.

Another growth restricting initiative, Measure O, qualified for the ballot thanks to a grass-roots movement of residents fighting a proposed 1,045-home subdivision, San Stino, near Shingle Springs communities of mostly 5-acre parcels. Measure O seeks to amend the general plan to effectively stop San Stino and similar building plans by restricting higher-density residential construction in Shingle Springs, Camino, Pollock Pines and parts of El Dorado Hills and Cameron Park.

A third initiative, Measure N, was put on the ballot by a Sacramento commercial builders alliance, Region Builders. Measure N would extend for 25 years the provisions of a 1998 voter-approved measure that imposed steep traffic impact fees on subdivision developers. But Measure N also proposes allowing local county road funds to be used for improvements to Highway 50, a move seen by opponents as a potential boon for commercial building in the freeway corridor.

Ultimately, Region Builders walked away from its own initiative, refusing to campaign for the measure after spending $80,000 to help qualify it for the ballot. But two local contractors, Joe Vicini Inc., a Placerville engineering firm, and Doug Veerkamp General Engineering Inc. of El Dorado Hills, recently donated $9,000 and $6,500, respectively, to back Measure N.

Meanwhile, multiple real estate, construction and development groups are spending heavily to defeat all three initiatives.

Kirk Bone, director for governmental relations for Parker Development Co., said business interests are fighting the slow-growth measures because they would effectively sabotage the county’s general plan document, which was “developed over 15 years” at a cost of tens of millions of dollars to the county and included “probably millions of hours of community involvement.”

“This is about defending a general plan that these measures would just shred,” Bone said.

Another donor to the No on M-N-O campaign, G3 Enterprises, is hoping to build 800 houses in a project, Lime Rock Valley, that is a companion to Parker Development’s Marble Valley development. It would bring the total number of planned homes in the Marble Valley area to 4,036. G3 Enterprises, tied to heirs of the Gallo wine family, donated $49,500 to fight the growth control initiatives.

Outgoing El Dorado County Supervisor Ron Briggs, who said he voted “yes” on Measure M in early balloting and “no” on the other measures, said the spending against the initiatives suggests a power grab by Parker Development and partners wanting to develop the 2,341-acre Marble Valley site.

“You’ve got (Parker Development president) Bill Parker and his operatives trying to buy 4,000 homes in Marble Valley,” Briggs said. “If you do the math, that’s probably a $1.2billion project when it’s complete. So if they spend a million dollars here, that’s chump change. … They’re bombarding the airwaves and bombarding the mail boxes. I’ve received six pieces of mail in the last eight days.”

One “MNO NO-NO-NO” mailer sent to El Dorado County voters shows photos of wine vineyards, pastoral ranches and rustic oaks. “Why Ruin It?” the mailer asks. It says the local ballot measures “threaten open space,” would “strip farmers of property rights for 20 years” and put at risk developer funds used for schools and roads. Still another mailer, entitled, “A Monster of a Mess,” said the initiatives “undermine local control” and “violate private property rights, exposing county taxpayers to lawsuits and legal battles lasting years.”

The most visible development-backed campaign spot, a commercial running during the World Series, has featured a local farmer speaking to the camera from a lush Sierra foothills setting. “The people of El Dorado County voted to protect land like this,” the farmer says. “Measure M, N (and) O overturn that protection, forcing development into rural areas and jamming our roads with traffic.”

Bill Center, a former county supervisor who owns a Lotus whitewater rafting campground, said Measure M is aimed at stopping new subdivision approvals in a county where as many as 17,000 permitted homes are already in the pipeline. “What this is going to do is stop San Stino, stop Marble Valley and stop the golf course in El Dorado Hills from being rezoned into a mini-city.”

Center, the Measure M co-sponsor, claimed opponents’ advertising blitz presents a false narrative “that measure M will push growth into rural areas” that lack services and overturn safeguards protecting open space. Center argued that there is no logic to the claim that stopping big subdivisions near Highway 50 will negatively impact rural communities.

Lori Parlin, co-sponsor of Measure O, said she is offended by campaign attacks that assail all three measures together. “They have ads coming out with statements that have nothing to do with Measure O,” Parlin said. “I’m hoping it backfires. I hope people see all this money being spent and wonder where it is coming from. That should send a red flag to voters.”

The Yes on O committee had raised $19,611 by mid-October and the Yes on M committee $22,230. The leading backers of the two initiatives included Jason Bird, a Shingle Springs retiree who donated $12,542 to the Measure O campaign and Center, who gave $5,200 to Measure M.

In contrast, the campaign to defeat the growth control initiatives also took in $49,999 from Kevin Nagle, a wealthy pharmaceutical executive who is part owner of the Sacramento Kings and an investor backing efforts of the Sacramento Republic FC soccer team to win a major league soccer franchise. An El Dorado Hills resident, Nagle was a general partner in developing the El Dorado Hills Town Center.

Other top donations to the No on M-N-O campaign included $49,500 from Sierra Pacific Industries lumber and building products, $30,000 from the California Association of Realtors, $20,000 from North State Building Industry Association and $10,000 from home builder Premier United Communities of Granite Bay.

Scott White, a legislative advocate for the North State Building Industry Association, said construction-related groups are jumping into the ballot fight because, “when you see local land-use control being taking away, that’s always going to worry business and development organizations. No longer will El Dorado County supervisors make decisions. It’s basically planning by the ballot box.”

Development interests have also funneled money to a campaign committee of the El Dorado County Chamber of Commerce. The chamber is backing an El Dorado supervisor candidate, Michael Ranalli, who has come out against measures M, N and O. Ranalli’s 4th District rival, Howard Penn, is a co-sponsor of Measure M.

Ranalli said in a recent interview that he opposes new high-density subdivisions and would want currently proposed projects, including San Stino, to be significantly reduced in scale if he is elected.

But Ranalli received $15,000 in donations this month from the El Dorado chamber. During the same period, the chamber took in $10,000 from Steve Kessler, president of a Southern California home building firm, Renasci Development of Agoura Hills, plus $7,500 from another home builder, Thomas Winn Communities of Sacramento, and $5,000 from the North State Building Association.

“We made a commitment to endorse Michael Ranalli,” said El Dorado chamber CEO Laurel Brent-Bumb, who said the chamber’s political committee also accepts money from pro-business sources, including Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and Health Plus Shared Services, a for-profit subsidiary of the Hospital Council of Northern and Southern California. “If I’m able to carry my message because a developer wants to give me money to do that, I’m fine with that.”

Call The Bee’s Peter Hecht, (916)326-5539.

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