Lawsuit won’t stop low-growth initiative |

Lawsuit won’t stop low-growth initiative

Greg Risling

Once again, residents of El Dorado County will have the final say in a low-growth initiative that has been held over for nearly two years.

Measure A, which would reduce county residential density levels, will be on the June ballot after a Lake County Superior Court judge recently ruled that analysis of a pending lawsuit couldn’t be completed before the March 6 filing deadline.

The measure didn’t make the November 1996 ballot and according to state law couldn’t appear until the next “regular” election, which will be this June.

The lawsuit filed on Jan. 20 by a major developer, Russell Ranch Limited Partnership, and several landowners, against the county claims Measure A doesn’t abide by state law and goes beyond the scope of local government and its constituents. Plaintiff lawyers say if Measure A does pass it won’t stand up in court because of the precedent it would set for future residential projects.

Judge John Golden denied the plaintiff’s petition to remove Measure A from the ballot although he didn’t challenge its validity. Golden said they can contest the measure after the election.

“Petitioners aren’t precluded from raising the issue of the measure’s validity in a subsequent proceeding should it be approved at the election,” he added.

If Measure A is approved this June, it would have a direct impact on development in El Dorado Hills. According to the county’s General Plan, approved in 1996, the county’s buildout potential is equipped to handle a population of 360,000. Passage of the initiative would reduce the buildout by 30 percent and developers, who had projects approved after the general plan, would have to meet further restrictions and be subjected to a countywide vote.

Some of the projects possibly in jeopardy are Bass Hill Lake, Pilot Hill Ranch and Carson Creek. Landowners in the Carson Creek area, which include the Russell Ranch Partnership, want the project intact. The Carson Creek project rubber-stamped by the Board of Supervisors last month is one of the county’s largest residential endeavors. It encompasses 710 acres in El Dorado Hills and would devote 143 acres to open space, 31 acres to parks and 48 acres to research and development. The plan calls for 2,434 homes to be built with another 13 acres reserved for commercial use.

Even though the county is named as the defendant in the lawsuit, the supervisors plan to argue against the initiative on the county ballot. District 5 Supervisor John Upton has until Friday to provide the Elections Department with the board’s rebuttal statement.

County Counsel Lou Green said the county took a neutral position with the lawsuit and will continue to move ahead in the electoral process.

“The measure qualified for the ballot so my job right now is to provide an impartial analysis,” Green said.

Green answered a slew of questions from supervisors two years ago when he filed a report about the merits of Measure A. While Green said developers may be protected from the initiative, the strongest response may have come from the California Department of Housing and Community Development. Deputy Director Kimberly Dellinger said in an Aug. 6,1996 letter that the county lacks the authority to impose the measure’s provisions and would create conflicts with state law.

“While concerns about traffic congestion and air pollution are understandable, the initiative’s response to these problems are short-sighted and not likely to be successful,” Dellinger replied.

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