Photo courtesy Mike Linksvayer
Sutter Creek began updating its general plan in 2012. A city’s general plan is the blueprint for its future. It sets forth conditions and limitations on future development. It includes both a vision for a city’s future and a commitment to a list of actions needed to make that vision a reality. And it gives direction to private investors, community groups, and city officials who want to
bring that vision to life.
The Sutter Creek City Council will soon circulate the latest versions of the Sutter Creek General Plan Update and related environmental analysis for a final round of written public comments. The draft general plan would allow the city to grow to 20,000 residents from its current population of fewer than 3,000.
The city’s 2017 environmental review of the draft plan showed that future development could have adverse effects upon, among other things, traffic, parking, views of ridgelines, noise, and community parks. The Foothill Conservancy’s main concern about the draft is that in many cases, the city is not committing to actually mitigate those impacts, but instead retaining the
option for future city councils to waive some mitigation measures on a case-by-case basis.
When last we reported to you on the Sutter Creek General Plan Update , the planning commission was reviewing the draft general plan and making recommendations for changes to the city council. However, the review claimed that the general plan update included policies that would act as mitigation measures to reduce those impacts to insignificant levels.
For a policy to qualify as a mitigation measure under the California Environmental Quality Act, a city must commit to implement it. But the policies the city relied upon don’t qualify as mitigation measures because they are not mandatory and enforceable (“shall” or “must” policies), but may be optionally applied or not by the city council on a project-by-project basis (“should” or “may” policies). After we pointed out this problem, the planning commission
agreed to require that each policy that serves as mitigation would be applied to new developments unless it was financially, technically, or legally infeasible, or would have other more-undesirable adverse impacts of its own.
But the city has now rejected that definition. At two public workshops held this year, the city council made a number of changes to the plan, including rejecting the mitigation recommendation from the planning commission. Council members felt that the recommendation placed too many constraints on its discretion.
However, the meeting minutes do not reflect the public or council members’ comments or their actual direction to staff, so we are left somewhat confused regarding what level of mitigation commitment the council truly intends to make in the new general plan. The city will reveal its modified approach to the mitigation question, along with the other changes to the plan made by the council, when the revised general plan update and mitigated negative declaration are circulated for public comment.
If this lack of accountability concerns you, please weigh in before the city adopts the new plan. Please tell the council that you want mitigation measures to be mandatory, so that Sutter Creek remains a beautiful, pleasant, and healthy place to live, work, visit, and do business. To get on the list to receive the plan and mitigated negative declaration documents, please contact city planning consultant Anders Hague and Sutter Creek City Manager
And if you live in Sutter Creek or have a business or property there, be sure to keep an eye out for alerts from us by e-mail, phone or on Facebook regarding your next opportunity to comment on the plan that will shape the future of Sutter Creek for decades to come.