El Dorado plan goes to vote | NevadaAppeal.com

El Dorado plan goes to vote

Gregory Crofton

El Dorado County’s long struggle to come up with a plan that deals with growth, traffic issues and the environment could set a state precedent.

After receiving more than 10,000 signatures from residents, the county Board of Supervisors last week unanimously agreed that a version of the general plan can be an initiative on the March ballot.

“I do not believe there has ever been an entire county general plan adopted by initiative in the state,” said Ed Knapp, chief assistant counsel for El Dorado County. “There have been modifications to general plans, but never the entire general plan.”

Knapp said the answer is probably “yes” that if the plan is approved by voters, it would be valid. The state would not require further environmental analysis if the plan is approved – but that doesn’t mean it can’t be challenged in court.

“It will result in some unique legal issues,” said Knapp, noting his office has begun to research the matter. “If somebody chooses to sue, sure. I don’t know anybody who is going to, but given the contentious nature of growth and development in the county, I expect somebody will.”

Rick Russell, founder of the El Dorado Citizens for Responsible Planning, collected the signatures in about 12 days. He thought it would take much longer.

“I really misjudged the amount of pent-up frustration of the citizenry here in El Dorado County,” Russell said by phone from El Dorado, west of Placerville. “People feel the county has spent too much money on the process, and that it may not be able to conclude what it began.”

Russell estimates about $15 million has been spent on creating a general plan since 1990. El Dorado County adopted a general plan in 1996, but it was challenged in court. A judge ordered it rescinded in 1999 because of a minor procedural error related to environmental law, said John Upton, South Lake Tahoe city councilman and supervisor for El Dorado County from 1991 to 1999.

“I’m pleased as a taxpayer,” said Upton about the plan being put on the ballot. “Maybe they’ll try to end the process so the county can go on with business. There is never going to be complete agreement on anything. At least it would get something on the table, something to work from.”

Russell said El Dorado is the only county in the state without a general plan and that hurts its ability to tap state funds for housing and transportation projects. Development in the county since 1999 was authorized by a writ of mandate issued by the same judge who forced a recall of the 1996 general plan.

The El Dorado County Board of Supervisors has requested staff to analyze Russell’s initiative, which is similar to the one adopted by the Board of Supervisors in 1996, except for a new housing element.

The county has 30 days to produce its report on the initiative.

Staff will continue to pursue its planning process to come up with a general plan, said Heidi Tschudin, independent land-use consultant hired by El Dorado County in May 2002 to lead the county’s staff on the project.

“We have four alternatives we’ve released to the public,” she said. “We’re very close to end of the process.”

Public hearings for the general plan will likely begin in February, and a deadline of June is set for its adoption, Tschudin said. The deadline was recently pushed from December until June.

“One of the difficulties in the process they’ve engaged in is to not identify a preferred alternative,” Russell said. “The (ballot) initiative is asking voters to adopt one of those, the 1996 general plan alternative.”

County Supervisor Jack Sweeny made the motion to put the initiative on the March ballot. He said adopting a general plan has been a challenge because of lawsuits filed by a core group of about 400 people, which is split down the middle over the issue of development.

The general plan will not affect South Lake Tahoe, Placerville or the portion of the county in the Lake Tahoe Basin.