The membership of the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors has changed in the past six years and so, too, has the board’s approach to updating the county’s general plan.
The board made that clear this week when it voted 4-1 to approve a vision statement and principles for the general plan that gives greater emphasis to the rights of property owners and less to public goals such as preserving historic communities and quality of life.
Supervisor Chris Wright was opposed.
The vision statement and guiding principles are an optional part of the general plan that guides the planning commission in developing the policies and implementation measures in each element of the plan.
Supervisor Steve Kearney said keeping the general plan vague would help it retain the flexibility to adapt to changes that may take place in the future.
“What the county looks like in 10 years might not be anything that crosses through my mind right now,” Kearney said. “This allows for those changes. It allows for property rights to be respected and it also allows for new development.”
Wright expressed support for a vision statement and guiding principles written in 2008 with a different planning consultant and the participation of hundreds of citizens.
“It’s been vetted by a larger group of people throughout the county,” Wright said. “All the work that went into the previous one should not be thrown out.”
The 2008 version had 16 letters of support while the current 2014 version had one. Similarly, dozens of citizens expressed support for the earlier version during public comments Tuesday, while three expressed support for the current one.
While the only difference between the 2008 and 2014 draft vision statements is that the latter includes a phrase about growing economic opportunities, there are major differences in the versions’ guiding principles.
The 2008 guiding principles developed with planning consultants Mintier-Harnish include the desire to protect water quality, address environmental hazards, create more opportunities for walking and biking, provide childcare and medical services, ensure educational opportunities, and have measurable outcomes for government services, among other things.
In contrast, the 2014 version lists fewer services, directly referencing only the maintenance of roads and streets and the provision of effective and efficient water, wastewater disposal and fire protection.
The 2008 principles also address economic development, with one principle stressing businesses based on innovative industries, advanced technology and sustainable natural resources, among others.
Another principle states, “Development will not outpace the ability of county government to provide adequate services and infrastructure or reduce the level of service provided to existing communities.”
On the other hand, the 2014 version has phrases incorporated into the majority of its guiding principles that protect the rights of property owners.
A 2008 guiding principle states: “Open space, wildlife habitat, scenic vistas, agricultural lands, forests, rivers and lakes will be protected and maintained for wildlife habitat, productive grazing and agricultural lands and recreation.”
This was rewritten in the 2014 version to read: “Maintenance of open space, wildlife habitat, agricultural lands and forests will be accomplished by the continued ability to maintain the productive resources in the county by those who own, operate or manage them.”
Tonja Dausend said she preferred the emphasis on property rights in the later version and was against the government limiting what she could do on her property.
“There’s a special interest group in this county that’s been very active in getting government control over our property and it’s had some very bad effects,” Dausend said.
Dausend said she did not want the government rules to restrict her from being able to keep horses on her property because it is not large enough. She said she can decide that for herself.
But Marti Crane of Valley Springs said no property owner lives in a vacuum and what one person does on his or her land may impact the entire community.
She added that the lack of specificity in the 2014 version would make it more difficult for potential developers to complete projects.
The version of the general plan developed in 2008 has been a source of fiery debate since the Mintier-Harnish consulting firm was fired by a former planning director and board of supervisors. Those leaders reportedly never looked at the consultants’ draft general plan, completed in 2011.
By that point, the consultants had been paid $900,000 and were 80 percent done with the general plan update. Since then, $400,000 in additional contracts have been granted to consultants to update the general plan.
Tom Infusino, representative of the citizen’s advocacy group Calaveras Planning Coalition, said that Planning Director Peter Maurer on Dec. 4 denied his Public Record Act request to see the Mintier-Harnish general plan.
Among the reasons for the denial listed in a letter from Assistant County Counsel David Sirias was that the county no longer has a copy of the plan.
Infusino said Mintier-Harnish has the plan and that company representatives are willing to release it with the consent of county leaders.
Several members of the public urged the board to put the issue on the agenda. Supervisors made no response.