Growth, transportation at issue with ballot measures
The growth plan designed for El Dorado County gets about as clear as swamp water when people debating the plan start playing with projected housing and population numbers.
But on March 8, residents will be asked to vote on Measure B, which, if supported by a majority, would likely lead to the implementation of a 20-year growth plan approved last year by the Board of Supervisors.
The plan would allow for 32,000 new housing units to accommodate the 81,000 people who experts estimate will move to the West Slope between now and 2025. More than 14,000 of those housing units have already been approved, said Peter Maurer, principal planner for the county.
“The main difference between the 2004 plan and the other plan alternatives is not so much how much growth occurs between now and 2025, because all of them accommodate projected growth estimates,” Maurer said. “The difference is the amount of growth that would be allowed after 2025.”
The plan chosen by the board comes with a land map that allows for maximum development, but Maurer pointed out, the general plan is designed to last 20 years and could be adjusted any time along the way.
Opponents of the plan say they are against it because it allows for the highest amount of growth without addressing traffic congestion on Highway 50. They have their own growth-related initiative on the ballot, Measure D. It would block the adoption of the general plan until the county deals with rush-hour traffic congestion on the highway.
If both Measures B and D pass, D would not be put into practice until at least 20 years down the road, when the county approves the next general plan.
The plan approved by the Board of Supervisors last July is a mix of different planning alternatives, but its core comes from a general plan brought forward in 1996. The growth constraints mixed into the plan involves environmental protections and provisions which require developers to improve roads and make sure there is adequate water supply.
“This plan is a well-thought-out, well-balanced plan that considers traffic, air quality, open space, wildlife corridors and doesn’t allow building in certain places like ridgetops,” said Supervisor Dave Solaro. “It’s taken a total of 15 years and cost about $15 million dollars. If we don’t get Measure B passed we’ll have to start over.”
Solaro, who represents the Tahoe portion of the county and voted for the plan, said the rush-hour bottleneck on the highway that develops near Placerville is an issue to be handled by Caltrans and the city, not through the general plan. Plus, Solaro said, the plan adopted by the board included a traffic plan that was part of the most environmentally restrictive plan alternative.
More important, Solaro said, are the ramifications the county will have to deal with if it fails to adopt a general plan. The county would remain ineligible for state and federal grant money for affordable housing and other projects. And, he said, continuing on without a general plan would bring ongoing Highway 50 ramp improvement projects at Missouri Flats and El Dorado Hills to a halt.
Kathi Lishman, a founding member of the No Gridlock Committee who helped get Measure D on the ballot, said this general plan allows too much growth.
“We need more controlled growth and good planning,” Lishman, former mayor of Placerville, said. “This would allow everybody to subdivide their property the way they want, and that’s not good planning. And traffic is an issue. Highway 50 can’t handle the growth that’s already been approved, let alone traffic for triple the population.”
Caltrans has two projects in the works for the portion of Highway 50 that runs through El Dorado County. One of them is designed to ease congestion around Placerville by adding an eastbound lane where Highway 50 meets downtown Placerville and connecting Placerville Drive with Main Street, according to Lishman. It is in its final design phase and funding for it will be requested in the 2005-06 budget year, which begins in July, said Jan Mendoza, Caltrans spokeswoman.
The other project would put a carpool lane on the eastbound and westbound sides of Highway 50. The lanes would run nine miles between the El Dorado Hills Boulevard overpass and the Shingles Spring Road/Ponderosa Road overpass. The project is still being designed and there is no timetable for when Caltrans might request funding for it, Mendoza said.
Any increased traffic congestion on Highway 50 along the West Slope does affect South Shore, but the general plan adopted by the board would not impact growth in the Lake Tahoe Basin because it is regulated by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.
– Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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