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Growth debate fuels lawsuits and animosity

Patrick McCartney

Mark Twain once said that whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over.

In El Dorado County, it’s the politics of growth that makes people’s blood boil.

The county’s ongoing debate over development has triggered a host of lawsuits, initiatives, referendums and an unending stream of invective and distrust.

Efforts to forge a consensus between slow-growth activists and development interests have foundered, with neither side willing to give in to the other.

After the approval of the county’s General Plan elicited howls of anger from West Slope residents, who felt their interests had been undermined by developer influence, Supervisor John Upton said he tried to launch an effort to heal the rift in the polarized community. He had no luck interesting either side of the dispute.

“I thought I had a pretty good idea,” Upton said. “I suggested working on a two-year rewrite of the General Plan, complete with focus groups and public hearings. But the rest of the board didn’t want to support it.”

Upton said the experience so frustrated him that he lost interest in remaining on the board. He blames the intransigence of the slow-growth activists.

“So long as there’s a feeling that they can shut the county down with initiatives, I don’t know where the middle ground will come from,” Upton said.

The activists say they had no choice but to pursue an initiative, saying the county’s supervisors and planning commission cater to developer interests.

William “Sam” Bradley, the West Slope supervisor who was once stripped of his committee assignments by the rest of the board, dismissed Upton’s call for a rewrite of the General Plan as a stalling tactic.

“It was more of the same,” Bradley said, suggesting the plan revision would again have given development interests the upper hand. “They were happy with the finished product. The building industry wrote the General Plan.”

A major Sacramento Valley developer, Angelo Tsakopoulos’ AKT Development, sued Measure A’s supporters, delaying the initiative by nearly two years. Bradley said the board approved 6,500 more housing units in his district since the suit was filed.

He described the lawsuit, since settled, as an attempt to harass the developer’s foes.

“The normal citizen is not privy to how lawsuits work,” Bradley said. “The purpose of a lawsuit like that is to make them break off, put their tail between their legs, go home and shut up.”

Bradley makes no excuses for his rocky relationship with his fellow supervisors.

“I tried for years to go through the government system,” he said. “But since they were just blowing me off, I decided to go and start initiatives. Consensus implies that somebody’s willing to give up something, and only the residents of my district have given anything up. The other side has had their way for so long, they see no reason to change.”

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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