After two days of public hearings, the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve its long-anticipated General Plan update on July 31. The plan is a long-term blueprint meant to reflect the community’s vision for growth over the next 20 years, and it hasn’t been updated since 1996.
One of the most contentious issues to arise was the board’s decision to exclude existing community plans for Arnold, Avery/Hathaway Pines, Ebbetts Pass, Murphys/Douglas Flat and Valley Springs.
Community plans are meant to identify characteristics of individual communities and provide policies to support and assist development and preservation of their social, economic, environmental and historic assets.
In January of 2014, county supervisors directed staff to exclude community plans from the General Plan update due to “concerns about the length of time needed to ensure consistency and outstanding controversy on some of the plans,” the Community Planning Element narrative reads.
Under the updated General Plan, 14 of the county’s 24 designated “community areas” do not have community plans, despite various planning efforts undertaken over the past 12 years to produce them.
District 3 Supervisor Merita Callaway said that policies and visions laid out in community plans along the Highway 4 corridor are covered in the General Plan update. She said she spent seven years working on Arnold’s community plan and another seven years for Hathaway Pines.
“If I felt that those plans had components in it that were critical to those communities that were not in the updated General Plan, I’d have an entirely different feeling,” Callaway said, with reference to bike and walking paths, community centers, retention of community character, mixed-use zoning and provisions to prohibit building large commercial developments like strip malls.
She also voiced support for staff to prioritize adoption of community plans in Copperopolis and Valley Springs, where community plan efforts have already been undertaken over the past 12 years.
In the public seating section in board chambers, members of the Calaveras Planning Coalition (CPC) held up photos of county residents that signed petition forms to include community plans in the update as speakers listed their names to supervisors.
According to Valley Springs resident and CPC member Muriel Zeller, a $255,000 community plan for Valley Springs that was completed in 2009 through an “unprecedented public outreach and participation” process should have been included in the General Plan update. Funded by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and administered by the Calaveras Council of Governments (CCOG) in partnership with MyValleySprings.com, the initiative began in 2007 as a response to planning staff encouraging county residents to draft community plans, Zeller told supervisors.
The plan included many unique community policies, according to Colleen Platt of MyValleySprings.com. Some of those included “creating greenway and park spaces for recreational and trail use utilizing the Cosgrove Creek and Spring Valley Creek riparian corridors, wetlands, and flood areas; limiting development on steep hillsides to the north and west of the historic Valley Springs settlement to protect natural resources and scenic views that frame the area; and preserving, revitalizing and extending the area’s unique gridded street system and historical buildings.”
Another plan for the region was subsequently developed by a small ad hoc committee formed by District 1 Supervisor Gary Tofanelli.
An Enterprise report in 2010 called the sequence of planning meetings the “Valley Springs plan battle,” as it divided community members that, on one end, felt their property rights were being taken away.
“CCOG and myvalley-springs.com were accused of trying to force an agenda of high-density, clustered living onto the west end of the county,” the article indicated.
The two plans were combined into one draft in 2017, but none of it was included in the most recent General Plan update.
“You told us community plans would be cost prohibitive,” Zeller said in the meeting. “Now you tell us community plans will be added later. Forgive me if I don’t believe you … You have wasted time and money. Forgive me if I have lost faith in you.”
Platt echoed Zeller’s sentiment in an Aug. 8 email.
“With the elimination of the Valley Springs Community Plan, area residents and businesses lose their community voice and their say in local growth and development,” she said.
In the meeting, Tofanelli said that the combination of the two aforementioned Valley Springs plans had verbiage inconsistencies that would need to be fixed before adopting into the General Plan. Tofanelli could not be reached for further comment.
Ben Stopper, the supervisor for District 5, said a portion of Valley Springs falls within his district, and that adopting a community plan for the area is a high priority of his.
District 4 Supervisor Dennis Mills said Copperopolis is in “desperate need” of a new community plan, noting the area’s deficiencies in parks, lake access and services.
He added that past attempts at plans would need to be replaced to account for changes that have since occurred. Some factors that would “change the dynamic of the boundaries,” according to Mills, include the loss of Oak Canyon Ranch, the addition of Sanguinetti – now Copper Valley developments, Tuscany Hills, DeNova Homes, La Cobre Mina and an infill development project on the corner of O’byrnes Ferry and Connor Estates.
Mills could not be reached for further comment.
District 2 Supervisor Jack Garamendi said that while he thinks “waiting on community plans is a very bad idea,” moving the General Plan forward is “really vital to the future of our county.” He added that all community plans in District 2 are still included in the update.
“I recognize it’s not perfect,” he said. “I think it’s better … to move forward a little bit and let progress trump perfection in this case. I support (supervisors) in bringing their community plans to the planning department and I know they will do a good job in representing their communities.”
The General Plan should be refreshed on a regular basis to ensure future boards won’t have to face an “out-of-date document in need of such massive revisions again,” according to Garamendi. By law, the plan can be updated up to four times per year.
Planning Director Peter Maurer told the Enterprise Tuesday that the planning department is working on the findings and hopes to bring them back to the board in early September for final adoption.