Photo courtesy Mike Linksvayer.
On July 15, 2019, the Sutter Creek City Council approved the long-awaited update of its city general plan. The update text includes 18 policies the City earlier agreed to include at the Foothill Conservancy's request.
These policies will more-effectively reduce noise, protect historic structures, fund parks, protect creekside greenways, improve pedestrian and bicycle transportation, visually screen new development, reduce flooding hazards, reduce erosion, and protect water quality.
As we reported in the Spring 2019 issue of the Foothill e-Focus, in February of this year the Sutter Creek City Council rejected a broad compromise that the Foothill Conservancy had worked out with the Sutter Creek Planning Commission in May of 2018. That compromise would have strengthened about four dozen policies in the draft general plan update which were designed to reduce 13 different environmental impacts of the new development allowed under the plan. However, the compromise would have also reduced city council's power to waive or neglect other policies in the plan, which the council found unacceptable.
So, the Conservancy Land Use Team went back to the drawing board to identify the select policies that if made mandatory, would be most likely to have a meaningful, positive on-the-ground effect in the city. We identified 19 policies, and asked to discuss them with the City’s attorney and planning consultants.
The City’s planning consultants were pleased to find that our proposals were not designed to stop good development projects, but to make them better. The consultants repeatedly asked themselves two questions. First, is there any good project that won’t be able to meet this development standard? And second, would the City even want a development project that did not meet this standard? After only a single morning meeting in May with the planning consultants, we reached consensus on 18 of the 19 policies. With only minor changes, the city council agreed to the 18 policies on May 20.
The only area of disagreement was our request to require at least two points of access to each new subdivision, to facilitate both emergency vehicle access and resident evacuation. The council preferred to retain the power to allow some smaller dead-end subdivisions after considering the advice of the fire department on a case-by-case basis.
In our letter to Sutter Creek, we thanked their planning consultants, the city attorney, and the city council. They were wise enough to meet with us and work things out before approving the plan. This resolved the conflict and avoided the time and expense of litigation.
We hope that other local governments will see the wisdom of this approach. With good, clear, communication and an effort to find common ground, parties can often resolve conflicts in an amicable and productive way.