An early February snowstorm overwhelmed the upcountry of Calaveras County. Roads in major neighborhoods remained unplowed for days while people were stuck at home without power or heat. Concerns about the elderly and access to emergency services rose each day. District 3 Supervisor Merita Callaway posted her personal phone number on social media offering to arrange help for individuals who did not know where else to turn.
It has always snowed in the high country of Calaveras County. Heavy winter storms have always been a part of life in the mountains. So why haven’t we done better? Why don’t we have community plans for the Highway 4 corridor included in the updated General Plan particularly to address a population that has increased and gotten older?
From the oak woodlands and savannahs of Valley Springs to the mixed conifer forests of Dorrington, Calaveras County encompasses diverse and unique communities with their own special considerations. When the County passed the General Plan in 2019, it was unfortunate to see that the community plans that had been protecting places like Arnold, Murphys and others since as early as the 1980s were missing.
Community plans address specific community issues that the General Plan does not. They may be even more restrictive than the General Plan but not less. Adequate snowplow services in any upcountry community could have been supported by a well-written community plan that identified the need for enough staffing, equipment and funds to ensure roads are plowed.
Communities in the Butte fire footprint also have special considerations as brush grows back thick and dense, unrepaired roads continue to crumble, and residents are left feeling vulnerable to another wildfire during the ever-lengthening fire season. Designating money for prescribed burning, fuel breaks, safe evacuation routes and more could be part of a community plan. If you have ever been on evacuation notice, you understand the fear of losing everything. You understand why you must plan to protect your community from fire!
Different economies deserve different plans as well. Communities that rely on resource production and working lands are sometimes different than communities that rely upon tourism, public lands access, and hospitality to fuel their economies. Yet, a community plan can also help protect the symbiotic relationship between open space and tourism. It can help prevent working lands from being turned into housing subdivisions or help ensure the rural, historical character that attracts tourism is protected through guidelines for new developments. If you love where you live, if you love where you work, you probably want to protect it!
Those communities that had community plans before the updated General Plan was adopted in November 2019 benefitted from local policies maintaining visual appeal, improving roads, enhancing fire safety, and securing water supplies. People will wish they still had those policies in place the next time a proposed development threatens to diminish these community assets.
Many communities have already invested time, energy and resources to address issues relevant to their communities. The people of Valley Springs spent more than a decade and over a quarter of a million dollars in grant funds collaborating with government officials to craft a community plan. Two updated community plans were submitted to the county in 2010, but neither plan was adopted, and the Valley Springs Community Plan was eliminated entirely from the 2019 General Plan Update. In September 2020, a Valley Springs Community Plan was adopted as an amended section of the Community Planning Element of the General Plan. It is not a comprehensive, standalone community plan created by the citizens.
The Board of Supervisors has designated Copperopolis as their next community plan priority, but the lack of a community plan in Copperopolis isn’t slowing plans for development. While reducing development capacity in many areas of the county, the 2019 General Plan Update retained substantial new development capacity in the Copperopolis area. The people of Copperopolis have completed two draft community plans since 1992, but much like Valley Springs, the Board of Supervisors is doing things in their own time and in their own way.
Calaveras County is home to such a great diversity of communities. Let’s preserve and honor that diversity by allowing communities to plan for their own unique futures. Restore the Community Plans we had, and adopt the Community Plans we need!
Megan Fiske is the Outreach Coordinator for the Community Action Project/Calaveras Planning Coalition. CAP and the Coalition value the inherent wisdom of local residents in determining the design and development of their communities. For more information: calaverascap.com.