Saturday, January 19, 2008

General plan land use alternatives released

Update January 24: Because of the bad weather, the next General Plan Advisory Committee meeting will be held on Thursday February 21, not tonight.

At Thursday’s General Plan Advisory Committee meeting, the committee and the public will get a chance to look at and perhaps discuss the three land use alternatives (with one “bonus” development) proposed for our new general plan. (There will definitely be discussion at future meetings.)

The county Planning Department recently published three alternative land use maps for the general plan update. The maps come with a workbook that explains the proposed alternatives, land use classifications, and so forth. As the county moves forward with the plan update, it may choose one of these alternatives, combine features from them, or come up with something entirely new.

The workbook begins with assumptions about future population growth that drive the alternative and refers to two sources: the California Department of Finance and the Amador Water Agency.

The Department of Finance expects the county's population to grow to 54,788 by 2030, an increase of 55 percent from 2000, or about 1.8 percent per year. The workbook says that at this rate – and if development trends continue as they have since 2000 -- about 7,000 of the new residents would live in the county's unincorporated area.

The Amador Water Agency’s high growth rate estimate is about 2.9 percent per year. That's a far cry from the Department of Finance 1.8 percent – and results in a projected difference of more than 8,000 additional residents in the unincorporated area by 2030 (7,000+ vs. 15,000+).

The Department of Finance employs professional demographers and is considered the state’s “single official source of demographic data for state planning and budgeting.” The Amador Water Agency is a public utility with no documented track record in estimating population growth.

For the general plan land use element, the county and its consultants picked a growth rate between the AWA and DOF figures. Then they mapped the county to accommodate that growth.

The result? Each of the three alternatives allows for about 11,850 new residents in the unincorporated area of the county. The difference between the alternatives is where most of the growth would occur – in rural areas or town centers.

There’s a variation on one alternative that includes development of the Howard Ranch outside Ione – now being called by its historic name, Rancho Arroyo Seco. The projected population of that one “planned community”? More than 32,000 people – nearly as many people as live in our entire county today. You can see the map of that land here.

If any of this concerns you, it’s time to get involved. The next General Plan Advisory Committee meeting, open to the public, is at the County Administrative Center on Thursday night, January 24, at 6 p.m.

General plans are required and governed by state law. To see what the state says ought to be in the general plan, check out the state General Plan Guidelines.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Evening Drive

I left work today before dark, a welcome change from recent habit.

In doing so, I saw
  • A great egret turn pink in evening light
  • A Little League sign-up sign in Sutter Creek
  • A herd of cattle on the hill at Darling Ranch, new calves with faces gleaming white
  • Greening hills nourished by recent rains
  • Hawks sailing to an evening perch

Beautiful creatures, warm light, signs of community, the promise of spring to come.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Kirkwood 500

This afternoon we took a nice walk on the Mokelumne River's Electra Run. Just before 5 p.m., we drove through Pine Grove and tried to turn left across the westbound traffic onto Pine Grove-Volcano Road.

After more than 100 cars passed us by, the traffic stopped. It had backed up all the way through town, from the stoplight at Ridge Road and Highway 88. Fortunately, a considerate driver left the intersection clear so we could make our turn.

I've never seen anything like it in Pine Grove. I hate to think of what would have happened if the fire department or ambulance needed to get through town.

Judging from the snowboards and ski racks on the SUVs and cars, at least one-third, if not one-half, of the traffic was coming from Kirkwood Mountain Resort.

Back when the county approved the expansion of Kirkwood, those of us involved in the process warned about what it would do to traffic in Pine Grove. I've seen people flying through town on the way to and from the resort, but I've never been stuck in traffic like this.

Kirkwood is touting its new online carpool forum as a solution for resort traffic and parking woes. Maybe some people are using it, but at least tonight, that system didn't seem to have much effect down here.

Perhaps it's time for Kirkwood to pay the CHP or sheriff for some traffic control in Pine Grove on Sunday evenings.

Valuing the night sky

I've mentioned this before, but was reminded of it again last night as I dropped off to sleep with the Big Dipper's handle clearly in view: One of the things I treasure most about living in Amador County is the dark night sky.

We can still see the stars, planets, star clusters, constellations, meteor showers and the occasional comet. That night view is as valuable to me as anything I see during the day.

But in many parts of the country, people are losing their night sky because of the glare from homes and commercial development. It doesn't have to be that way. Planners need to learn that it's where and how lights are installed, not more of them, that makes people safe. And homeowners need to consider how many lights they really need, and think about how their lights affect the dark sky we all share.

The latest Sierra town to confront the issue of light pollution is Truckee. Several articles about how Truckee is proposing to preserve its dark night sky are found on the Skykeepers website. They're interesting reading. That website includes a great deal of related information, including a page on how you can help keep our night sky dark.

One basic thing you can do is speak up for the dark night sky when new projects are proposed. Lights can be strategically placed and properly shielded.

As Skykeeper Jack Sales says about losing the dark night sky, "The night sky is a cultural resource that transcends time and place."

For more, see the website of the International Dark-Sky Association.

And if you'd like to receive e-mail alerts about what's up in the sky at night, see the website.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Around the county on New Year's Day

We took time today to walk at Middle Bar on the Mokelumne River and along Gwin Mine Road on the Calaveras side of the river, about 40 minutes from home. Saw a few things worth noting there and on the way to and from ...

At Middle Bar: New picnic tables under the trees, overlooking the river. Gordon Miller would be so pleased. One man was fishing from the bridge, briefly. A couple on a motorcycle paused for a birthday portrait.

At Pardee Reservoir: Resident Canada geese, some ducks, two red-tailed hawks, and reservoir levels low enough you could wade (carefully) across the river upstream of the Middle Bar Bridge (in waders following all EBMUD rules, of course).

Above Gwin Mine Road: A new section of the Coast-to-Crest Trail under construction.

In Pine Grove, on the sign by the park: "Have a Joyous Kwanzaa" along with "Merry Christmas." First mention of Kwanzaa I've ever seen on anything official in Amador.

On Pine Grove-Volcano Road: A llama guarding a herd of sheep.

It was a lovely Amador County New Year's Day: Scenic beauty, history, nature, culture and agriculture, all in an outing of less than three hours. We are blessed, indeed.