For many years, a small group of individuals who claim to support the voter-approved General Plan have sought to change the plan or obstruct its implementation at every opportunity – through multiple unsuccessful or unconstitutional initiatives, failed recall attempts, and wasteful lawsuits. They freely misrepresent and distort the effect of the 2015 Targeted General Plan Amendment and Zoning Update as an “overhaul” that “gutted” the plan and “densified” the County. That’s total nonsense!

The latest of these bogus allegations surfaced again on social media and in a video from a member of this group, who is also a current candidate for County office. This is nothing more than a dishonest and cynical attempt to frighten and inflame voters.

Once again, we’ll try to set the record straight:

1. The Update did not “overhaul” General Plan land uses.

The General Plan assigns a Land Use Designation (LUD) to every parcel in the county, represented as a color on the land use map. For each LUD (i.e., Commercial, Rural Residential, Agricultural Lands, Industrial), the General Plan defines allowable uses and residential density ranges (i.e., High Density Residential – 1 to 5 units per acre; Low Density Residential – 1 unit per 5 or 10 acres). Zoning consists of a set of regulations to implement the General Plan, such as minimum lot size, building height, setbacks, etc. State law requires zoning to be consistent with the General Plan, and in the case of a conflict, the General Plan always trumps zoning.

Land Use Designations for 99.9% of parcels countywide were UNCHANGED in the Update.  Land use map changes were limited to: 1) Expansion of Ag District boundaries by 17,000 acres (view map here); 2) Conversion of Camino/Pollock Pines Community Region to a Rural Center (view map here); and 3) Administrative Land Use Map corrections for fewer than 160 parcels, see General Plan Land Use Amendment Map and General Plan Amendment Detail/Quad Maps (Bottom of Page)

No other Land Uses were changed.

2. The Update did NOT eliminate agricultural lands.  Agricultural and forestry uses are allowed on over 90% of the 1,000,000+ acres in rural regions, including forested timberland in public and private ownership; 125,000 acres of land within Agricultural Districts, the Agricultural Land (AL) land use designation, and other lands zoned for agriculture, all of which enjoy “right to farm” protections; and nearly all other zones allowed in rural areas, such as Estate Residential (RE) and Rural Lands (RL).

The phony narrative implies that agricultural lands were changed to residential use by referring to a map showing parcels eligible to “opt-in” to agricultural zoning (see Map #1 - Eligible Parcels), and a map illustrating the 700+ owners who accepted the offer of agricultural zoning (see Map #2 - Parcels "Opting-in" to Ag Zoning). The story line suggests that all the parcels shown on Map #1, but not Map #2, are lost agricultural land, probably “converted” to residential use, and the only ag lands left are those shown on Map #2. This is flatly untrue and mischaracterizes what the maps illustrate.

Map #2 does not depict all other lands available for agriculture and forestry, including about 700,000 acres of timberland; 125,000 acres of Ag District, AL land and land that was automatically zoned for agriculture. Moreover, it does not show that the vast majority of all parcels in the rural areas are allowed agricultural uses by right, including grazing, crop production and sales of produce grown onsite.

In their lawsuit challenging the Update, this no growth group argued that owners of land in agricultural production or suitable for production were allowed to passively opt out of agricultural districts. The Court rejected the claim, finding the “evidence cited does not support [the] argument that current land owners are being allowed to passively opt out of agricultural districts in violation of mandatory policies...”

These individuals have often claimed to be defenders of agriculture in El Dorado County. Concerning one of the recent misguided initiatives, the President of the El Dorado County Farm Bureau said: “[These people] do not understand the needs of agriculture in El Dorado County. They do not represent us and they do not speak on our behalf.” We couldn’t have said it better.

For more information, see our report Land Use and Zoning -- Myths, Misconceptions and Misrepresentations

On April 25, 2018, the El Dorado County Superior Court issued a Tentative Ruling that appears to hand Rural Communities United (RCU) a major defeat in their lawsuit challenging El Dorado County’s 2015 adoption of the Targeted General Plan Amendment and countywide Zoning Ordinance Update (TGPA-ZOU).

In a detailed 239-page ruling, Judge Warren Stracener rejected nearly every argument in RCU’s wide-ranging lawsuit challenging the Environmental Impact Report (EIR). The court will require the County to make a few minor changes to the EIR – to revise the County’s responses to seven out of literally thousands of public comments, and to move the discussion of a disagreement with the Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention about the required timing to complete future state-mandated General Plan updates concerning fire safety to a more prominent location in the EIR.

Other than these minor revisions, the Court seems poised to reject all of RCU’s substantive objections to the County’s environmental analysis and uphold the County’s adoption of the Targeted General Plan Amendment and Zoning Ordinance Update.

Background
 
The voter approved 2004 General Plan has been attacked by RCU members since its adoption.

The General Plan adopted a land use plan that assigned colors representing the allowed use of each of nearly 108,000 existing parcels countywide. In most instances, the General Plan map continued the historical use designations from earlier plans. The 2004 General Plan required the County to update its archaic zoning map to conform to the assigned land uses by 2005.
 
In 2015, ten years late, the Board updated the zoning map, ensuring each landowner the right to use their land consistent with the land use as designated in the General Plan. The Board made some targeted changes to a few of the more than 500 separate plan policies and directives, including:


1. Changed Camino/Pollock Pines from Community Region to Rural Center;

2. Expanded Agricultural Districts by 17,000 acres;

3. Allowed marginal agricultural parcels to “opt-in” to agricultural zoning;

4. Strategies to enhance the economic viability of agricultural operations, such as agritourism and ag homestays, direct marketing of agricultural products, and simplified permit processing for uses complying with established standards; 

5. Adopted Historic District Overlays to protect the historic townships of Diamond Springs and El Dorado;

6. Allowed a range of agricultural support services and other economic uses of rural lands as an alternative to rural subdivisions; 

7. Set standards and permit requirements for home occupations, which employ up to 16% of the work force in El Dorado County.

RCU members opposed and tried to obstruct the TGPA process by a range of tactics, including:

1. Initiated a “Total Recall” effort against the entire Board as an intimidation tactic, which fizzled out when they failed to collect enough signatures by the deadline to even bother submitting petitions to the elections department.

2. RCU members went on to submit hundreds of pages of comments on the TGPA-ZOU EIR with nearly 5,000 pages of attachments – and then tried to convince the Board not to allow the county’s EIR consultant and outside counsel to prepare the legally required responses.

3. Demanded the County grant RCU its own separate hearing before the Board and asked the County to establish a task force of Supervisors and Planning Commissioners to meet in the back room with RCU representatives to negotiate changes to the TGPA-ZOU – the complete opposite of an open and transparent process.

4. Sponsored and promoted a series of initiatives to obstruct the General Plan.

5. They have totally misrepresented the zoning update, alleging that the county changed the use of over 37,000 parcels without notice to landowners. In truth, of about 108,000 parcels in the county, the TGPA-ZOU changed the land use of only about 160 parcels, all of which represented administrative clean-ups and mapping error corrections.

6. When all else fails, they attack the agricultural community, business leaders and community members who agree with the broadly supported effort as if all are part of a vast conspiracy controlled by an El Dorado County developer.

Lawsuit – Issues and Court Tentative Findings

RCU filed their lawsuit in early 2016 after their threats and obstructionist tactics failed to derail the TGPA-ZOU. RCU challenged virtually every component of the TGPA and ZOU, including:

1. Expansion of Ag District boundaries to add 17,000 acres providing maximum protections to lands in active agricultural production or suitable for agricultural use. RCU contested this expansion. The court rejected their objection and found that these boundary changes had been thoroughly vetted by the Ag Department and in public hearings before the Ag Commission, contrary to assertions by RCU. The court found there was no evidence in the record to support RCU’s opposition to this change.

2. Ag Zoning “opt in” program, developed with assistance of the County Farm Bureau, whereby landowners whose property did not meet all the criteria for agricultural zoning had the option to request ag zoning for their property. RCU characteristically misrepresented the voluntary “opt-in” program in its briefs as a program allowing landowners to passively “opt-out” of ag zoning. The court rejected this mischaracterization and found the evidence “does not support petitioner’s argument that current land owners are being allowed to passively opt out of agricultural districts in violation of mandatory policies.”

3. Lori Parlin, a member of RCU, requested that several commercial parcels, including two improved parcels adjacent to her home be downzoned. All the parcels are designated commercial on the General Plan Land Use Map, and front on Highway 50 at an interchange with a major north/south arterial road. The Court ruled that “Lori Parlin was not entitled to have her comment concerning [a] specific parcel be treated individually... In addition, the administrative record shows that... Lori Parlin received favorable consideration of her comments at the planning commission hearing” but ultimately, she failed to prevail on her request. “Although she did not ultimately prevail, it would appear she received due consideration of her concerns.”

4. RCU attacked the County’s traffic model analysis. The court rejected the argument, finding that the County had analyzed Level of Service (LOS) for 227 road segments using a traffic model that was peer-reviewed and verified by both Caltrans and SACOG. “The program EIR is not required to analyze each and every road and road intersection in the County. The traffic impact analysis is sufficient.”

5. Further, RCU argued that the County’s Traffic Impact Mitigation (TIM) Fee program is underfunded, but because existing residents are not contributing their share of costs. Really? TIM Fees are entirely funded by new homes or business, not existing residents.

6. And, what about the misleading, politically-motivated charge the TGPA/ZOU changed the land use of 37,000 parcels without notice to landowners? This political propaganda is aimed at those who do not know that parcel-specific land use for some 108,000 parcels in El Dorado County is designated by the General Plan, including the range of use. The TGPA/ZOU did not change the 2004 General Plan land use map – except for roughly 160 administrative and mapping error corrections. The zoning update was to replace an archaic hodge podge of regulations dating back to the late 1940s, to add new zones required by the General Plan, delete obsolete zones, change the names of others, and revise the map to ensure consistency between the General Plan land use and zoning. The General Plan required these regulations be updated by 2005, within one year of General Plan adoption.

The County Deserves Kudos for Doing this Right

It’s fair to say the County has had its share of troubles with CEQA compliance over the years, most notably with the EIR for its 1996 General Plan. As a result, for nearly five years, El Dorado County found itself as the only jurisdiction in the state without a valid General Plan.

In addition to the excellent staff in El Dorado County Long Range Planning, for the TGPA-ZOU, the County brought in top-notch traffic and environmental consultants, and one of the most highly regarded CEQA attorneys in the state. That expertise is costly and was made more so by the obstructionist tactics employed by RCU. Still, the County stayed the course, and the outcome reflects a determination to avoid mistakes of the past.

A former County Supervisor liked to say “The County never has time to do it right, but always has time to do it over.” This time, the County took the time and got it right.

See our report Land Use and Zoning – Myths, Misunderstandings and Misrepresentations for more information about the TGPA and ZOU.  For more information about the Court's decision, see our Tentative Ruling Summary Table, or read the El Dorado County Superior Court Tentative Ruling here.

In resolving a lawsuit challenging Measure E, El Dorado County Judge Warren Stracener has ruled that Measure E imposed exactions on new development that violate constitutional fair share requirements.

The “no-growth” proponents of Measure E promised voters that the initiative would make an affected development project pay for the full cost of improvements to regional roads and Highway 50 to serve 10 to 20 years of projected cumulative growth, divert impact fees from designated road projects to be spent in the area where the fees were collected, and allow fees to be used for road maintenance. Proponents could not deliver on these promises, however, because the power of the initiative does not authorize voters to enact laws that are unconstitutional or violate state law.

A long list of organizations including the El Dorado County Farm Bureau, El Dorado County Chamber of Commerce, El Dorado Hills Chamber of Commerce, Deputy Sheriffs’ Association, El Dorado Winery Association, El Dorado County Taxpayers Association, El Dorado County Republican Central Committee, and the editorial boards of the Sacramento Bee and Mountain Democrat – all opposed Measure E not only because it was unlawful, as the court has now confirmed, but because its broad brush approach impacted smaller projects, job-generating commercial, business expansion, agricultural uses, hospitals and medical facilities, parks and ballfields, and moderate income housing.

The court’s decision invalidating Measure E’s unconstitutional amendments will restore underlying General Plan policies from voter-approved Measure Y requiring new development to pay Traffic Impact Mitigation (TIM) fees to fully mitigate traffic impacts.

Measure Y is working to maintain levels of service on our roads. The TIM fee program, which has generated over $240 million in road improvements to date, is the most expensive and comprehensive regional road improvement program in the state. It is the only program designed to maintain levels of service on both local roads and state highways, including Highway 50 and interchanges. A 2015 nationwide fee survey shows El Dorado County TIM fees are the highest of all 280 jurisdictions surveyed – more than six times the national average, and 75% above the next highest reported city or county in California.

In a 2014 report to the Board of Supervisors, County staff and counsel acknowledged that Measure E raised constitutional issues that would need to be addressed if the measure was approved by voters. After the election, the County was between a rock and a hard place – it was required to enforce Measure E by either imposing unconstitutional conditions on new projects, or unconstitutionally denying a permit because the condition couldn’t be lawfully imposed. EDCARP decided to file its own lawsuit to ask the court to resolve the important constitutional rights of property owners, small businesses, farmers and ranchers and others in our community.

In addition to invalidating Measure E exactions that exceeded federal and state constitutional and state law requirements, the court’s detailed 49 page opinion upheld a handful of implementation measures that were already being applied under the TIM fee program and several other clauses amended to reinstate 1998 Measure Y language. Measure E revoked a 2008 voter amendment to Measure Y authorizing the Board, by a 4/5 vote, to add a road segment to the list allowed to operate at LOS F - authority the Board has never exercised. Changes regarding multi-family housing were found not to be inconsistent with the Housing Element, because after invalidating other unconstitutional conditions, traffic impacts can be mitigated by payment of TIM fees. A new policy requiring a 2/3 vote to form an Infrastructure Financing District (IFD) was upheld because it simply restated existing state law and applied only to IFDs.

The court’s decision, the Petition for Writ of Mandate and briefs filed by the parties are posted at www.edcarp.orgA list (compiled by EDCARP) reflecting the operative General Plan policies after the court's ruling is available here. (GP TC Policies after Trial Court Decision.)

On Friday, July 29, 2016, Alliance for Responsible Planning (EDCARP) filed a Petition for Writ of Mandate in El Dorado County Superior Court seeking to invalidate Measure E on grounds that it is unconstitutional, violates state law, and is inconsistent with and frustrates implementation of the County’s adopted General Plan.

We respect El Dorado County voters and their right to enact legislation through the initiative process. The law, however, does not set a double standard for legislation adopted by initiative, and neither elected officials nor voters are empowered to pass legislation that is unconstitutional or violates California law.

Prior to the election, EDCARP, along with many other organizations, expressed valid concerns that Measure E did not simply target large development projects, but instead would stop “discretionary” approvals of many uses we need and want in our communities – to create jobs, to encourage small businesses, to support agriculture, to provide housing for moderate income families, and to provide facilities and services, such as parks and ballfields for our growing population. These voices were largely drowned out amid campaign rhetoric and claims of developer influence with no basis in reality.

In the weeks since the election, we have spoken to a number of small business and property owners trying to come to grips with how their future will be impacted. We will share some of these stories with you over the next weeks and months. Sadly, though, it appears for most there is no viable path forward under Measure E.

Time will tell what the outcome will be. Ultimately, we believe these complex issues are unlikely to be resolved through interpretation or negotiation, and must be addressed by the courts.

Follow these links to copies of the Alliance Petition for Writ of Mandate July 29, 2016 and Exhibits to Alliance Petition fo Writ of Mandate July 29, 2016

Alliance for Responsible Planning is a California nonprofit public benefit corporation established in 2014 to focus on issues affecting El Dorado County.  To our friends and supporters, we are also known as EDCARP, an organization comprised of residents, ranchers, growers and other business owners.  We are a “coalition of the middle” – those who feel the dialogue on land use has been dominated by no-growth advocates on the one hand and development interests on the other.  We support the 1% annual growth rate forecast in the General Plan based on our 50-year historical average, support the vigorous pursuit of water rights for ourselves and future generations, support the continuation of Measure Y to prevent gridlock, and seek a better future for our families and our community.


 

El Dorado County has rejected RCU's request for a separate appeal hearing on the Planning Commission's TGPA-ZOU recommendation, concluding that the Board of Supervisor's hearings scheduled for early November will provide RCU "ample opportunity to comment on the project in the same manner as other interested parties".

Hearings are scheduled to be held over three days beginning on November 10, 2015.  Hearings will continue on November 12 and 13, 2015.

EDCounty Letter to RCU 10 08 2015

A group calling itself Rural Communities United (RCU) filed an appeal of the September 2, 2015 Planning Commission recommendation to the Board of Supervisors (Board) for adoption of the Targeted General Plan Amendment and Zoning Ordinance Update (TGPA-ZOU).  In a letter accompanying the appeal, RCU asked the Board of Supervisors to form a “task force” to negotiate a back room deal with RCU to change the proposed TGPA-ZOU

More than 10 years after adoption of the 2004 General Plan, El Dorado County has adopted a Targeted General Plan Amendment and comprehensive Zoning Ordinance Update (the TGPA-ZOU). For the first time in nearly a generation, the County's zoning is consistent with the adopted General Plan as mandated by state law.

The TGPA-ZOU included a number of important changes that benefit our agriculture, businesses and local communities:

  • Expands the designated Agricultural Districts by more than 17,000 acres.
  • Converts the Camino/Pollock Pines Community Region to the Rural Centers