After a month of public hearings, the Calaveras County Planning Commission voted unanimously to adopt the county’s General Plan update on June 27.
“The resolution has been adopted on a 5-0 vote, and this is now the project of the Board of Supervisors,” said Michelle Plotnik, Chair and District 3 commissioner, before breaking into a relieved chuckle. “We are well aware that it is not anybody’s idea of the perfect document, but I’m pleased to have it completed.”
Commissioners spent about two hours with Planning Director Peter Maurer reviewing final edits. The group discussed slight modifications regarding the preservation of “rural character” during roads projects in areas of historic significance and conditions for protecting resource production, among other minor proposed changes.
The county’s General Plan is a long-term blueprint reflecting the community’s vision for growth over the next 20 years. In theory, that’s accomplished by setting policies that comply with state requirements and balance public and private interests as they pertain to the eight elements of the plan, which are land use, housing, circulation, conservation, noise, safety, open space and environmental justice.
If a developer wants to build 100 homes somewhere in the county, for instance, the land use element employs a land use map to determine where residential or other development can occur. Policies in other elements address impacts of the housing project – such as impacts to roads, public infrastructure, wildlife habitat, water pollution or greenhouse gas emissions.
The plan as a whole has to be informed by long-term population forecasts, which are constantly changing, Maurer told the Enterprise in a June 27 phone interview. The California Department of Finance projects the county’s population to grow by about 2,500 people by 2040, but that number could change drastically, depending on if the economy starts booming and creates a high demand in the foothills, or if new affordable housing laws are passed at the state level, for instance.
“Population growth is a moving target,” Maurer said. “Three years ago, it was 10,000 people expected over the next 20 years, but that’s been downgraded …”
One solution, according to Maurer, may be revisiting and updating the plan more often, rather than coming back every 20 years to make amendments.
The last time a General Plan was adopted for Calaveras County was 1996, and county officials have been working on an update for the past 12 years. Maurer said the 1996 plan includes widespread and unnecessary land use designations.
“We’ve never been this far in the process,” Maurer told the Enterprise in a June 27 phone interview. “Not everyone got what they wanted ... but overall I think it is a good compromise.”
In a press release issued on June 27, members of the Calaveras Planning Coalition (CPC), the flagship endeavor of the Community Action Project (CAP), expressed a multitude of concerns.
The update eliminates existing community plans for Valley Springs, Arnold, Murphys and Avery/Hathaway Pines.
Under the 1996 plan, all of those communities had their own plans to meet each area’s individual needs, according to CPC Facilitator Tom Infusino. For example, because Arnold is located right next to a state park, it has to have a comprehensive plan for year-round traffic, he said. In Murphys, the Main Street off of Highway 4 provides walkable spaces, thus it was important for them to protect that quality of the area in their community plan, he added.
Maurer said most of the existing plans are outdated, and most of the policies in those plans are replicated as county-wide policies in the update.
“Community plans are incorporated for some communities in the Community Planning Element of the proposed General Plan, and we’ve made a commitment to complete community plans for the remaining communities,” he said.
The CPC also criticized the update’s lack of clear deadlines for projects – with the exception of a greenhouse gas emissions reduction deadline by 2021– in addition to its lack of an explicit monitoring process to ensure objectives are being met.
The Calaveras County Board of Supervisors intends to hold two special hearings for final review tentatively on July 30 and 31, Maurer said. He estimated that the plan could be adopted by August at the earliest, after preparing findings to ensure the document meets state environmental requirements.