Monday, August 27, 2007

Lodi paper features the Mokelumne

The Mokelumne River runs from high in Alpine County to the San Francisco Bay Delta. Along the way, it provides water and power for millions of people; a home for a rich variety of wildlife; recreational experiences for the adrenaline junkie and the beach hound; and sustenance, inspiration and recharge for those of us who rely on the wonders of nature and the magic of changing light on flowing water.

The Lodi News-Sentinel just completed an exceptional three-part series on the Mokelumne. Two young journalists --reporter Matt Brown and photographer Brian Feulner -- kayaked the slower, flat valley/Delta portions of the river. They kayaked and hiked its lower foothill reaches. And finally, they undertook a true wilderness journey, backpacking from the Mokelumne's headwaters near Highland Lake through the Mokelumne Wilderness to Salt Springs Dam.

It was an exceptional adventure. The resulting stories, photos and videos are on the paper's website. Do take time to read and view them all.

Then if you support protecting the Mokelumne Electra Run--which the not-so-stuck-in-Lodi guys visited--and the incredible segments above it that they did not (Editor Rich Hanner's a good guy, but hey, you can only have your reporter and photographer gone for so long), sign on to support National Wild and Scenic River designation for the Mokelumne.

It takes no time at all to do your part to preserve our river for future generations to explore and enjoy.

It's our river to enjoy and ours to save.

"If not us, not them. If not now, then when? If not here, nor there. If not this world, then where?"__John Gorka song lyric: "If Not Now"

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Let the People Plan

Last weekend I attended the Sierra Nevada Alliance conference in Kings Beach. A couple of the sessions addressed an exciting trend -- community-based planning.

Instead of waiting to react to what a developer brings them, some towns are looking at land planned for annexation or redevelopment and coming up with a master plan for that land themselves. The processes are often hands-on, with lots of citizen involvement.

People decide what kind of development will take place, where, and how fast. They plan the parks and schools and fire stations. They plan the housing. They plan the business locations. They make sure that what they value most is protected -- special views, natural and historic features, and so forth. Most of all, they make sure the plan is consistent with their vision for their town.

And when the plan is done, the message to developers is clear: "This is what we need in our town. This is what we want. Join with us to make it happen."

The good news is that developers seem happy to bring in projects that fit the plans. That's probably because a community-developed plan gives the developer and landowner more certainty. It can also spare them all of the time and money they normally spend trying to market a project.

Amador County's small towns could take this approach to planning. Just think about how different the results might be from what developers are bringing us now.

Look at Martell. Some of us pushed for just such an approach to Martell redevelopment years ago, but the developers weren't interested. If local residents had developed a plan for Martell, it could have included a passive park in the woodland at the lower end, walking and bike trails to connect to the towns, mixed-use development with workforce housing, and more. But instead, we got a same-old, same-old sales-tax sacrifice zone that pulls revenue from our towns and gives us traffic jams in exchange.

It doesn't have to be that way. We don't have to wait for developers to "save" us with their ideas of what our towns should be.

We should define our future, ourselves.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Beware the Big Lie

In the 20th Century, propagandists perfected the practice of the "Big Lie" -- saying something outrageous and repeating it over and over again until people came to believe it.

21st Century Amador County developers have embraced this propaganda technique to push their projects on us.

"Our project is good for YourTown."

"Our project is the solution to YourProblems."

"Our project is smart growth."

The current noteworthy example is Jackson Hills. I've never seen a project get this far along with so many harmful environmental impacts and so many questions remaining about its details. And a couple of smart growth-resembling details do not a smart-growth project make.

But the developers and their minions are simply repeating their big lie mantras: "Jackson needs Jackson Hills. Jackson Hills will solve Jackson's wastewater problems. Jackson Hills is smart growth."

Because Jackson does have some real problems, mostly caused by poor development decisions made in the past and difficult infrastructure challenges, these messages are appealing.

But as I've said before, Jackson Hills is a bad project in the wrong place at the wrong time. The golf course can't dispose of wastewater in winter. There's no place for regular working Jacksonians to live. It would create gridlock in South Jackson. It would obliterate oak woodland and threaten the operation of local ranches. And there are just too many unanswered questions.

Jackson's Planning Commission saw through the Big Lie and recommended rejection of the project. So did the Amador County Transportation Commission.

They relied on fact, not faith, in making their decisions. Faith is a good thing, but putting faith in developers is a very risky business.

Let's hope the city mothers and fathers are also smart enough to see through the manipulation, look hard at the facts (and the missing facts), and do the right thing for their town and our county.

Be sure to attend the public hearing on Monday evening, August 13 if you'd like to weigh in.

Monday, August 6, 2007

ACTC gets it at last

We all know there is a connection between growth and traffic, at least in a county like this where everyone must drive for nearly everything.

Years ago, that connection seemed to be lost on the Amador County Transportation Commission. But now ACTC is emerging as a strong force for better planning in the county.

On Wednesday, the ACTC board voted to recommend to the Jackson City Council that it deny the Jackson Hills golf course subdivision project because of traffic concerns.

The next night, ACTC planner Sean Rabe gave a presentation to the Amador County General Plan Advisory Committee on traffic and land use.

"Traffic is a symptom," Rabe said. "Land use is the cause."

No joke. If we continue to develop in ways that require people to use their cars to get everywhere -- and everyone else to use their cars to get to them -- we will have gridlock at most major county intersections. There is simply not enough money and not enough buildable terrain to build our way out of this with bigger roads or new routes.

It's way past time to manage traffic on the demand side of the equation by paying more attention to where, how, when, and how fast we grow. ACTC deserves our thanks for stepping up on this critical local issue.

For more, read Editor Raheem Hosseini's editorial on the ACTC decision.