On July 31, the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors unanimously directed staff to prepare the paperwork needed for the Board to adopt the updated General Plan. The Board’s direction concluded a two-day review of the General Plan’s ten elements. The updated General Plan will rescind the existing community plans for Arnold, Avery/Hathaway Pines, Murphys/Douglas Flat, and Valley Springs. Fourteen of the county’s 24 Community Areas do not have community plans in the updated General Plan. The community plans included for District 2 cover only a small fraction of the land, and include only a fraction of the policies, originally agreed to by local residents.
Unfortunately, the General Plan adoption hearing was characterized by a lack of responsiveness to both public and Supervisor concerns. Public comment was limited to three minutes on each element, which forced speakers to condense and, consequently, minimize multiple complex land use and public policy issues. Tom Infusino, Facilitator of the Calaveras Planning Coalition (CPC), expressed his exasperation with the two days of special meetings. “They were paced and conducted more like a calf-roping than a public hearing,” he said.
The gallop through the plan was led by District Two Supervisor Jack Garamendi, Chairman of the Board, who indicated during his July 30 introductory remarks that he wanted to move forward with the General Plan Update as quickly as possible, favoring progress over perfection. Throughout the hearing when other supervisors identified problems with the plan that would take time for discussion, Garamendi encouraged them to move on, reminding them that the Board would have the opportunity to amend the plan four times a year.
On the occasions when actual policy debate was allowed, a couple of positive changes were made to the plan. The Land Use Element was modified to ensure that all new Specific Plan developments will include public access to recreational assets, open space, a diverse range of housing types, and measures to protect biological and cultural resources. The Circulation Element was changed to maintain free flowing traffic along Highways 4 and 49.
During discussion of the Resource Production Element, Infusino implored the supervisors to correct the damage done by the Planning Commission to the measures to mitigate impacts to agricultural land, streamside zones, oak woodlands, and sensitive species habitat. He warned that letting some development projects destroy habitat without mitigation, when combined with the effects of climate change, would result in rapidly pushing local sensitive species populations to the brink of extirpation. This could result in a federal injunction on development. This would prevent other development project proponents from exercising their property rights. He exclaimed, “If you don’t restore the mitigation proposed by your experts, you won’t be protecting the environment or property rights.”
The CPC, which believes public participation is critical to a successful planning process, was well represented at the hearing. United behind eleven land use and development principles, CPC members seek to balance the preservation of local agricultural, natural, and historic resources with the need to provide jobs, housing, safety, and services.
The hearing concluded Wednesday with a discussion of the Community Plans that were being eliminated by the Board. Members of the CPC read long lists of names of people from multiple communities who signed petitions asking for the retention of the community plans. CPC members held up pictures of some of those people that were captioned with requests like “Plan for Arnold,” “Plan for Murphys,” and “Plan for Copper.”
Muriel Zeller of the CPC reminded supervisors that in 2007, the public was told “to go forth and plan, and we did.” Colleen Platt of MyValleySprings.com said communities had trusted that their community plans would be included in the General Plan Update. She said the Board had betrayed that trust. She encouraged the Board, “To find the backbone and will… to include all Community Plans in the General Plan.” CPC member Marti Crane asked the Board to fix the General Plan Update in order to deliver the “accountability, commitment, and transparency” asked for by the people.
Also left out of the updated General Plan is a Community Plan for Copperopolis. Ralph Copeland, a CPC member from Copperopolis, proclaimed, “The community plan is our voice. Please don’t try to silence our voice.”
District 2 resident Robert Scott claimed, “Nowhere was the enthusiasm for community plans more evident than in District 2.” Mr. Scott continued, “The texts and the map provisions of those community-drafted plans were the result of an enormous amount of give and take among the community residents. These compromises resulted in overwhelming support for these plans. Unfortunately, these deals were not respected when the County raided the plan provisions, and constrained the scope of the policies to only community cores. The policies that so many people were told would protect them and their communities, were either gone, or were no longer applicable to the land on which they lived.” Referring to the community plans Mr. Scott concluded, “We hope that someday they can be restored to their original form and scope, so that they will truly represent the aspirations of our community.”
Clearly touched by the public comments, District Three Supervisor Merita Callaway nevertheless agreed to the elimination of the community plans in her district. She also deferred replacing those plans until after completion of the community plans for Copperopolis and Valley Springs.
Supervisors Dennis Mills acknowledged that a new Community Plan was desperately needed for Copperopolis, because the community was deficient in parks, lake access, and services. He recognized that the plans prepared for Copperopolis in 2005 and 2013 had useful components, but he concluded that yet another plan would have to be drafted before he would consider adopting a Community Plan for Copperopolis.
District One Supervisor Gary Tofanelli struggled for words as he inquired of Planning Director Peter Maurer about the process for yet again updating the Valley Springs Community Plan and securing its environmental review. This would mark the fourth attempt, as two community plan updates were drafted in 2010, and a compromise blending of those plans was completed in 2017.
Chairman Garamendi was pleased that he and his predecessors in District 2 had fought hard enough to keep District 2 Community Plans in the GPU. Although the plans were not as originally drafted by local residents, he favored, “progress over perfection.”