There are 24 community areas identified in the Community Planning Element of the updated General Plan unanimously accepted by the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors on July 31 as ready for adoption. Fourteen of those Community Areas do not have community plans, including Copperopolis and Valley Springs, the two communities most likely to grow and develop and, hence, the two communities most in need of planning. I have lived in Valley Springs for 33 years. It is my home.

During the July 31 hearing, supervisors told us that Valley Springs and Copperopolis are their planning priorities. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, because that’s the same thing supervisors said when the General Plan update began 12 years ago. To make matters worse, supervisors abandoned an Administrative Draft General Plan in 2011 that cost over $900,000. Yes, we had a nearly complete General Plan eight years ago that was to have included 16 new or updated community plans. They have wasted our time and our money. I have lost faith in county government.

In 2007, Calaveras County planning staff gave the citizens of this county a gift when they passed out copies of the smart growth Ahwahnee Principles at the first General Plan workshops when the update was in its infancy. Our supervisors told us to go forth and plan and gave us the tools to do it. We embraced smart growth and applied it to our communities.

In Valley Springs,, a non-profit organization, spearheaded the community planning effort which eventually produced a state-of-the-art $250,000 community plan in October 2010. The project included unprecedented public outreach and participation and was led by the Calaveras Council of Governments (COG). The Calaveras County Community Development Department (now separated into Planning and Building) was a project partner.

The resulting plan sits gathering dust, because District 1 Supervisor Gary Tofanelli did not endorse it in his first term as supervisor from 2009-2013, and he has not endorsed it since his reelection in 2017 to the present. Cliff Edson, the District 1 supervisor in the interim, did nothing to advance the plan either. Nevertheless, Gary Tofanelli is the single biggest reason that Valley Springs does not have a community plan.

Bill Claudino, District 1 supervisor when the community plan effort began, provided a letter of support for the successful Caltrans grant application that funded the COG-led Valley Springs Community Plan project. (I co-wrote the Caltrans grant application, and I was on the board of directors of at the time, and I remain a supporter.)

The process that produced the Valley Springs COG plan was similar to that used to produce the updated General Plan, and, not unlike the General Plan, there was controversy. One of the biggest objections to the COG plan was the map. Many Rancho Calaveras residents didn’t want to be included in the community plan boundaries, but the public process worked as it was intended. Rancho Calaveras was removed.

There were eccentric claims of an Agenda 21 conspiracy to promote smart growth principles and undermine property rights. Since that time, smart growth has become a widely accepted mainstream planning concept. Even the supervisor-approved General Plan has embraced rural smart growth by promoting community-centered development that maximizes infrastructure and preserves open space. It isn’t conspiratorial, it’s just smart.

Perhaps most controversial was the other Valley Springs community plan submitted to the county by a Citizens’ Committee formed by Supervisor Tofanelli. His committee wrote their plan in a vacuum with negligible public participation and submitted it to the county in September 2010, followed by a revision in February 2011. Two of the committee members have moved out of the county, one is deceased, and one lives in Copperopolis.

Further objections to the COG plan map came from the Citizens’ Committee, because they wanted to preserve the 1974 boundaries. They didn’t want Gold Creek or La Contenta to be considered part of Valley Springs. On June 1, 2010, the Board of Supervisors approved a motion made by Supervisor Tofanelli to insert the Citizens’ Committee map into the updated General Plan as the preferred land use map and to make the map from the COG plan an alternative.

Supervisor Tofanelli likes to claim, as he did once again on July 31, that the Board of Supervisors voted to make the Citizens’ Committee plan the preferred plan, which is simply not true. As board minutes make clear, “Motion made to have the May 27, 2010 map (Citizen’s Committee map) as the preferred map and the COG map as the alternate map. Approval: Majority.” A map is not a plan.

However, Tofanelli’s insistence is moot, because nothing made it into the updated General Plan – not the committee map, not the COG map, and certainly not any kind of community plan. The updated General Plan land use map for the Valley Springs Community Area now includes both Gold Creek and La Contenta and resembles the COG plan map much more closely than the Citizens’ Committee map.

Back in 2007, county officials told us to get our community plans done as quickly as possible so they could be included in the General Plan environmental impact report (EIR). They explained that adding the community plans “later” as General Plan amendments would be cost prohibitive, because each plan would require its own environmental review, perhaps even its own EIR.

Yet, on July 31, we were told it won’t be cost prohibitive to add the community plans to the General Plan “later.” Planning Director Peter Maurer said it could probably be done with a mere addendum to the General Plan EIR, which doesn’t even require public review. Even though I’m pretty sure that’s what Supervisor Tofanelli wanted to hear, it’s highly unlikely that an addendum will be adequate for the Valley Springs Community Plan.

You need to understand that “an area or community plan may provide greater detail regarding policies affecting development in a defined area (General Plan Guidelines, page 24).” In other words, a community plan may be more restrictive than the General Plan, because it is intended to address the specific challenges and opportunities of the community in greater detail than the General Plan. If all that’s required for a community plan is an addendum then it won’t be much of a plan.

Please go to the website and read the completed COG Community Plan. Click on “Planning,” then “Community Planning,” and scroll down to “Final Draft Valley Springs ‘Community Consensus’ Plan.” Why would we want to spend more time and money on community planning for Valley Springs when we already have a finished plan that cost $250,000?

No doubt the 2010 COG plan needs some updates and revisions, but the heavy lifting is done. Just read the Executive Summary. It gives a good overview. If you like what you see, dig a little deeper. And please contact Supervisor Tofanelli and Supervisor Ben Stopper (because part of the Valley Springs planning area is in District 5). Let them know you support this plan. Let them know a Community Plan for Valley Springs really is a priority.

Muriel Zeller is a member of the Calaveras Community Action Project (CAP) Governing Committee and the Calaveras Planning Coalition (CPC). CAP administers the CPC, which has been advocating for sustainable land use planning since 2006.


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