The Calaveras County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday held a study session to set priorities for which General Plan implementation measures staff should pursue first.

The board adopted the new General Plan on Nov. 12, 2019.

Each of the plan’s elements (land use, housing, circulation, resource production, conservation, noise, safety, open space and environmental justice) contains various policies and implementation measures.

Of the 213 measures (not including those in the Housing Element), 90 are one-time tasks, and 27 require an amendment to zoning code.

All five supervisors agreed that an overhaul of the county’s dated zoning ordinance should be one of the first steps, given a number of conflicting definitions and purpose statements in the ordinance that don’t align with permitted uses in certain zones.

That would likely take several years and use of an outside consultant experienced in zoning codes, according to Planning Director Peter Maurer.

The board also directed staff to start working on mitigation program guidelines for the impacts caused by conversion of land designated as Resource Production (RP).

The guidelines would include the following alternatives: acquisition of a conservation easement at a 1:1 ratio (one acre permanently conserved for every acre converted to urban development or other non-agricultural uses); purchase of banked mitigation credits; payment into a fund to restore, enhance and improve RP-designated land; and on-site mitigation.

Updating county code on vacation rentals and special events was also deemed a high priority by supervisors to be taken on separately from the zoning ordinance update.

On the plan’s goals to encourage infill development (redeveloping or revitalizing underused or deteriorating properties) and limit urban sprawl, Maurer restated that the county is trying to direct growth toward existing communities that are already fit to support “high-intensity” development. Those include the communities of Copperopolis and Valley Springs, Maurer said, adding, “that doesn’t mean we’re going to pop down a four-plex in Rancho Calaveras.”

Identifying areas that are not important farmland is of high priority as well, according to Maurer.

“We’ve identified lots of areas for future development … (throughout the county that are) appropriate because of infrastructure, because of access, because of surrounding land use patterns,” Maurer said. “This is where we want to see development. Out here, where it’s away from infrastructure, it’s remote – not appropriate, and that’s why it’s designated as forestry or agriculture or something else.”

Those factors can change over time, and that’s the point of revisiting the General Plan regularly, Maurer said.

“How are we meeting our housing needs?” Maurer said. “How is the economy doing? Do we have enough land available for industrial development for example, or commercial development? Are we getting new retail stores that we hope to be able to support our community here. If not, why? Is it something the county controls or something that is a broader macroeconomic issue that we just don’t have the population base to support the kind of stores that people would like to see, so they end driving to Amador, Tuolumne or Stockton?”

Those are the “big picture” issues the board should be identifying as it revisits the plan to see whether an update is necessary, Maurer said.

“I feel like I’ve been hearing this conversation for 20 years,” District 3 Supervisor Merita Callaway said after Maurer spoke. “It hasn’t changed.”

District 5 Supervisor Ben Stopper asked whether Butte Fire victims are being granted incentives for rebuilding.

Under current Title 25 provisions in the Building Code, fire victims can live in temporary housing units on their properties, Maurer said. Other than extending those provisions, Maurer said measures in the Housing Element are intended to address that need. That said, the “red tape” hasn’t necessarily been cut for people looking to rebuild, since “government moves slow,” Maurer said.

For the remainder of the fiscal year, the Planning Department has about $177,000 for consultant assistance on implementing measures in the General Plan. That money could be used to hire specialists to help develop plans, ordinances or other programs and any necessary California Environmental Quality Act documentation to adopt those programs. Approval of contracts in excess of $50,000 requires board approval.

Maurer told the Enterprise he will be preparing for the 2021 budget over the ensuing months to identify costs and logistics of fulfilling implementation measures.

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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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