Local Elections

Defeated in 2014, slow-growth El Dorado activists gear up for 2016

Election growth control measures signs for El Dorado County near Ponderosa Road on November 5 in Shingle Springs.
Election growth control measures signs for El Dorado County near Ponderosa Road on November 5 in Shingle Springs. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

El Dorado County voters just rejected three growth-control initiatives amid a $1 million opposition campaign funded by developer and real estate interests. Yet a ballot sequel already looms for 2016 as voters, once again, will consider measures restricting development in the Sierra foothills county.

Two other citizen-backed measures, which were withheld from the 2014 ballot for further study by county officials, have now received the go-ahead to appear on the county’s June 2016 ballot.

The Board of Supervisors on Nov. 21 approved a public vote on an initiative to ban approvals of new subdivisions, apartments and commercial projects if they lack reliable water supplies or connections to public water systems.

After backers collected enough voter signatures to qualify the “Initiative to Retain El Dorado County’s Current Zoning and Rural Assets,” supervisors had two options: Approve the measure outright or put it on the ballot. They voted 5-0 to let voters decide.

The measure also seeks to restrict development near agricultural lands and to establish protections for “scenic corridors” and “vista points” in the picturesque county where developers are proposing major new subdivisions along Highway 50.

Sue Taylor of Save Our County, a coalition of slow-growth organizations, said the zoning initiative is intended to rein in perceived county efforts to roll back restrictions on high-density housing projects.

“The county isn’t even looking at the existing general plan,” Taylor said. “They want to implement a bigger plan with more development and to increase all the densities. What were trying to do is implement the plan we have now and let voters know that’s not what the county is doing. They’re trying to supersize right now.”

She said slow-growth advocates are pushing on with another ballot fight to send a message of dissatisfaction over development proposals, even though pro-business groups may counter with another spending blizzard. “I guess it depends on what they hit us with in the next election,” Taylor said on the prospects of winning next time.

The voter-qualified “retain current zoning” initiative was originally one of three-related measures spurred by residents’ revolt against a 1,040-home subdivision and a hotel proposed for Shingle Springs.

Only one of the initiatives, Measure O, was placed on the Nov. 4 ballot. It sought to restrict high-density development in communities including Shingle Springs, Camino, Pollock Pines and parts of El Dorado Hills and Cameron Park. Nearly two-thirds of voters – 66 percent – rejected it.

Two unrelated growth-control measures on the ballot, Measures M and N, also lost. Measure M, which would have banned subdivisions creating or adding to gridlock on Highway 50 west of Placerville, was opposed by 58 percent of voters. Measure N, an alternative to Measure M backed by commercial developers and other business interests, was opposed by 75 percent.

The other companion measure to Measure O held off the 2014 ballot – called the “Initiative to Reinstate Measure Y’s Original Intent” – was approved for a 2016 vote by supervisors in the summer. It seeks to eliminate a 2008 voter-approved exception that enables a four-vote supermajority of the five-member Board of Supervisors to expand the list of roads allowed to operate at high traffic congestion levels. It also reverses a 2008 change that enables supervisors to use taxpayer dollars to pay for new roads that accommodate development.

Already, the 2016 growth-control measures are getting vociferous opposition from development, business and ranching interests that fought this month’s initiatives.

The Alliance for Responsible Planning, a local business advocacy group that campaigned against Measures M and O, sent a letter to supervisors blasting the proposed 2016 measure to restrict development over water or proximity to agricultural and scenic corridors.

Maryann Argyres, the group’s president, said the measure would reject, rather than preserve, the county’s general plan and cause chaos affecting approved land use for nearly 7,000 privately owned parcels in the county.

“The board would spend the next several years in court and contentious hearings to figure out the meaning of an initiative which literally turns” county land use “upside down,” Argyres wrote.

But Pollock Pines resident Fran Duchamp wrote supervisors that the growth-control measure is needed because “the citizens of El Dorado County have been asking for clarity and protections of our way of life for decades.” She said supervisors and planning commissioners “have continued to ignore, change, re-interpret or amend parts of the general plan that were promised to the public as protections.”

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

SLOW-GROWTH HITS BRICKS

How El Dorado County growth measures fared in November’s elections, each needing a majority to pass:

Measure M

Yes42.5%

No57.5%

Measure N

Yes24.5%

No75.5%

Measure O

Yes33.6%

No66.4%

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