The Calaveras County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved the 2019 Housing Element update of the county’s General Plan and closed final budget hearings for the 2019/2020 fiscal year.

The Housing Element was last updated in 2015, and was due for another update by 2019, Planning Director Peter Maurer told the board. That said, the law was recently changed to mandate the element be updated every eight years, Maurer said.

Maurer said the high costs of building in the county due to state energy conservation and safety mandates continue to present challenges for prospective developers. The lack of housing for homeless people in the county also continues to be a serious issue, Maurer said.

Additionally, Maurer expressed concerns that short-term vacation rentals are cutting into the available housing stock for workers. As required under one of the update’s measures, the county will conduct a study to determine the effect of short-term vacation rentals on workforce housing, he added.

That said, “On the whole, we’re doing pretty well,” Maurer said. “We have come close to meeting our regional housing needs assessment almost every cycle.”

Supervisors made one amendment to a section of the update related to a program “to provide fee reductions, fee waivers, deferral payments or installment payments for development and/or building fees on replacement projects” for people that lost structures in state or federally declared disasters. The amendment was to extend the benefits of the program to those that lost structures during county-declared disasters, so as to provide those same benefits during emergency events not declared by the state and federal governments as disasters.

The board also tossed around the idea of adding an “inclusionary zoning” provision that would require a certain amount of low-income housing units in housing development projects.

The inclusionary zoning provision is “pretty controversial, because we have not faced such a dire housing shortage as other cities and counties have, (in the Bay Area, for example) so we haven’t felt it necessary to impose such a provision,” Maurer said in a phone interview with the Enterprise after the meeting.

“It’s always a struggle to find housing for the full range of needs in a community,” especially since developers are incentivized to sell high-end housing to make a profit, he added.

During public comment, Joyce Techel of MyValleySprings.com voiced support for including the provision. District 5 resident Beth Wittke agreed, adding, “I would hate to see this place just be a playground for the very wealthy and then hear all of these complaints about people in the streets.”

Taxpayers Association President Al Segalla warned that inclusionary zoning is a “bad idea that depresses the housing market.”

In other business, supervisors held the final budget hearing for the 2019/2020 fiscal year. During hearings, disaster recovery spending over the past four years was at the center of the conversation.

“At the end of the day, the disaster budgets are the thing that really define our budget,” County Administrative Officer Al Alt told supervisors in his presentation.

The county’s spending on disaster response and recovery for 2019 (about $14.3 million) is up 2% from last year’s budget.

“We have a tremendous draw on our funds … for the disaster budgets because (most) expenditures are borne by the county in advance of getting reimbursed from CalOES and FEMA as we work through our projects,” Alt told the board.

The county pulled a larger-than-normal amount of Teeter funds (an account for property taxes paid late to the county) to balance the budget, drawing the balance down from $7,264,494 to $77,165, in part, to cover disaster response and recovery costs that will eventually be reimbursed by the state or federal government, Alt said.

The county has spent $22.3 million on recovery efforts following the 2015 Butte Fire (the bulk of expenses at $16.2 million), 2016 tree mortality epidemic, 2017 and 2019 winter storms, but it has only received $12.1 million in reimbursements from federal and state agencies, according to Office of Emergency Services Director John Osbourn.

Osbourn told the Enterprise in a phone interview Wednesday that a ballpark estimate of when and how much of the $23 million the county will be reimbursed depends on various factors, including each project’s claim amount, the timing of the claim, the work that needs to be done and whether or not it will be allowed or disallowed by the California Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

“We are actively pursuing every dollar available to mitigate impacts to the county budget,” Osbourn said.

The General Fund reserve is currently at $5.3 million, but it may be drawn upon to cover additional disaster recovery expenses in the future if an alternative funding source is not identified, Alt said.

The final budget will come back to supervisors for adoption in the coming weeks.

Earlier in the meeting District 3 Supervisor Merita Callaway brought up concerns with an item to approve the board’s response to the 2019/2020 Grand Jury Report, with reference to the Animal Services section of the document. Supervisors eventually directed staff to agree with the finding that the facility is “inadequate, unsafe, understaffed, and (having) outlived its utility.”

The board also adopted the Murphys State Route 4 Complete Streets Plan, finding it exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act.

The project aims to create safe bicycle and pedestrian connections, improve traffic safety, beautify the Highway 4 Corridor and slow traffic through Murphys, among other objectives.

Callaway voiced approval for the project, stating that the consultant for the project, Placeworks, Inc, was exceptional in their planning.

“I have to say the process was absolutely the best planning community involvement project I have ever seen since I’ve been involved with Calaveras County,” she said.

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Reporter

Davis graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in Environmental Studies. He covers environmental issues, agriculture, fire and local government. Davis spends his free time playing guitar and hiking with his dog, Penny.

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