The Feb. 24 article of the Calaveras Enter-prise featured the recent General Plan open house meeting held in Copperopolis. The news story accurately shared that some pro-development interests and their supporters showed up and provided various criticisms against the draft General Plan.
What may not have been evident to reporter Charity Maness or to others who attended the session is that the county is currently struggling to revise its
existing, legally deficient General Plan. Two past county planning directors have openly acknowledged before the Board of Supervis-ors that the current General Plan is legally flawed and must be revised.
Accordingly, current Planning Director Peter Maurer and his over-stretched planning staff have spent a huge amount of time and effort coordinating the formulation of the new draft General Plan with the county’s hired plan consultant. The result is a very complex proposed mix of old policies, new policies and revised land-use designations that are intended to meet state requirements and meet the evolving needs of Calaveras County.
At the Copperopolis meeting (which I attended for more than an hour), it was obvious that the vast majority of attendees had never read the new draft plan or had any idea of what state law requires. Mostly people showed up to emphasize their strongly held personal beliefs about private property rights or to ask how the plan might affect their individual properties. A number of strong supporters of development also showed up to promote policies that would best favor their interests.
The Enterprise article featured two developers in particular who stand to profit if they can influence the General Plan to benefit their projects. One, Dave Haley, was quoted as claiming, “Building won’t happen at all with this General Plan.” Such completely misleading claims can confuse county residents who don’t know the facts. In reality, there are more than 25,000 vacant unimproved parcels already available today in Calaveras County where new residential and commercial units
can be built if there is
a demand. Hundreds of already-approved, not-yet-sold vacant parcels are in Saddle Creek, one of Haley’s developments. There clearly is no truth to the claim that building can’t happen with the new draft General Plan.
In contrast, what the General Plan process has revealed is that the state’s estimate for population growth in Calaveras County for the next 20 years only requires 3,700 to 5,800 new residential units. Because the county already has over 25,000 unimproved parcels now, there are five times as many parcels available than may possibly be needed. There is absolutely no need for even more of a glut of unimproved parcels.
If Calaveras County development interests truly desire to make profits that benefit the county, the obvious opportunity is for them to take already existing parcels and build homes, commercial enterprises and destination attractions. But developers who simply desire personal profits by taking agricultural or resource-production lands and splitting them into new subdivisions will always find some reason to claim that even more vacant lots are desirable. In reality, what really needs to be evaluated in the General Plan are policies that can protect rural values, open space, agricultural vitality, and the county’s natural resources that make the county such an attractive destination for tourists and residents alike.
John Buckley is executive director of Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center.