As most of you know, in November 2016 the Foothill Conservancy filed a lawsuit challenging Amador County’s adoption of its new county general plan. We’re pleased to say that after negotiating with the county for about a year, we have reached an agreement to settle the lawsuit. The Foothill Conservancy board of directors approved the settlement at its March meeting. The Amador County Board of Supervisors followed suit in a unanimous vote on March 27.
“General plans set the stage for development in the county and resource protection for decades to come," said Foothill Conservancy Executive Director Amanda Nelson. “We are grateful that the county agreed to work with us to find a resolution that’s good for the county, its residents, and local businesses."
“The settlement addresses our key concerns about the general plan, and its provisions will better protect the county’s agricultural lands, scenic beauty, community character and wildlife. It will also set up a system that requires the county government to track key planning benchmarks and consider course corrections if things are headed in the wrong direction.”
Under the terms of the settlement, the county will consider county code amendments to:
- Better protect homes from wildland fire when land is developed in high- and very high-risk wildland fire areas.
- Reduce the likelihood of agricultural lands converting to nonagricultural uses.
- Preserve wildlife, aquatic resources, and water quality.
- Require applicants for commercial projects of 5,000 square feet or more to conduct an economic impact analysis of their project on the viability of existing businesses.
In addition, the county will develop ordinances to:
- Protect rural scenic quality along Amador County’s roads by establishing standards for commercial, industrial, and institutional development and guidelines for residential development.
- Establish commercial design standards for towns and existing communities to protect community character.
- Limit light pollution that harms views of dark night skies.
The settlement also requires the county to develop or make available information to project applicants and real estate agents on the risks of wildland fire, available levels of fire and emergency response, and wildland fire prevention methods.
Finally, the settlement requires the county to develop a comprehensive set of general plan performance measures, with regular monitoring and periodic reports to the county board of supervisors. If identified trends are inconsistent with the general plan’s stated goals, county staff will provide an analysis and make recommendations to the board, which will then review the recommendations at a public hearing.
“We believe the terms of the settlement will help the citizens of Amador County hold their elected officials accountable for protecting our local environment and quality of life,” said Foothill Conservancy President Katherine Evatt. “For the first time, the county is going to have to track and report on key environmental, economic and quality of life measures -- for example, the amount of agricultural land converted to other uses, the number of human-caused fire starts and homes lost to wildland fire, tourism spending, road safety issues, air quality violations and fines, and acres of wildlife habitat converted to other uses. If the county is changing in ways that conflict with the general plan’s goals and policies, the supervisors will have to vote to make changes or to continue the trend. Either way, the public will have better information on what’s happening in our county than we’ve had in the past, and voters can hold elected officials to account.”
Under the terms of the settlement, the county must take specific actions within six months of signing the agreement. When they do, we will file a proposed stipulated judgment with the Amador Superior Court. The more complex ordinances must be developed and reviewed over the next two years.
“We’re very happy with this outcome,” Nelson said. “It’s much better for everyone than going through a protracted, costly legal battle and extensive general plan changes.
“We’d like to thank the county’s negotiating team, including Supervisors Morgan and Forster, county staff, and the county’s outside counsel -- the Sohagi Law Group -- as well as our attorney Michael Graf, planner Terry Watt, and Conservancy President Katherine Evatt for all of the hard work that led to this agreement.”