Sunday, February 17, 2008

Rural sprawl's fire cost

Last Sunday's Sacramento Bee featured a guest editorial from the retired forest supervisor of the San Bernardino National Forest, entitled "Fire Risk Needs To Be Factored Into Zoning."

It's important reading for anyone who cares about planning in Amador County or anywhere else in rural California. Fire is a fact of life in our state. It's part of the ecology. As long as counties continue to allow sprawl in high fire-risk areas, we will continue to incur huge costs in wildland firefighting -- and lives and property will continue to be lost.

Zimmerman estimates the cost of California wildland fire suppression to be about $1 billion a year. As he points out, most of that cost is borne by state and federal taxpayers, not local residents or county governments. It's a subsidy, pure and simple.

Zimmerman's op-ed follows on last year's Sierra Nevada Alliance report on growth in high fire-risk areas of the Sierra, Dangerous Development: Wildfire and Rural Sprawl in the Sierra Nevada. If you haven't read that yet, be sure to take a look.

I wrote a letter to the Bee regarding Zimmerman's op-ed, which they published today. You can read it here.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

So Jack Mitchell's going to run after all...not

Update February 22, 2008: In today's paper, Jack Mitchell declared that he's not going to run for supervisor. Apparently, he's had a change of heart.


A while back, Amador Ledger Dispatch publisher Jack Mitchell moved to Sutter Creek from the Pine Grove area. Word was he was planning to run for county supervisor against incumbent Louis Boitano. An article in yesterday's paper shows that rumor to be well founded.

In the story, Mitchell said, "If there's a viable second candidate, I will back out." Sure he will. I think he's been running for at least the last two years. If you don't believe me, re-read his editorials on the Ledger website with that in mind.

Tuesday's article on the various supervisor candidates may foreshadow things to come. Mitchell got nearly twice as much copy in the story as Boitano.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Missed opportunities

I was sitting in the parking lot at the Amador Ridge center in Martell the other day, keeping the dog company while Pete picked up some groceries. It's a busy, growing place, Amador Ridge. It's also totally designed for commerce and cars.

There are sidewalks in front of the shops. But if you want to walk out to your car, or from shops out to the main drag that leads to Highway 49, you have to walk in the traffic, in the gutter or on the grass. It's anything but pedestrian friendly -- which is a real shame because things are located so close to one another that it should be easy to walk. A few sidewalks could have made a real difference.

Sitting in the truck, I was saddened by the missed opportunities there in Martell. The county could have insisted on mixed-use development at the former mill site, including housing above the shops. Imagine -- people could have walked to work!

There could have been a park in the SW corner of the property. Sidewalks. Walking and bike trails throughout the property and connecting to Jackson and Sutter Creek.

But we don't have any of that.

Why wasn't it done? Hard to say. Some of us tried. Representatives of Foothill Conservancy and the Amador Economic Development Corporation met and discussed the potential for a real, planned development on the former mill site. It was a most positive meeting -- lots of good ideas, and so much potential. But the county, and the developers, mainly wanted retail at Martell, with some other "light commercial." It was all about money, especially sales tax.

So look at what we do have -- retail that should be in our cities, now in the county. Increased traffic on Highway 49. Major county offices that were in Jackson, now moved to Martell (guess where those folks will shop now?). Meanwhile, our towns are struggling to survive, falling prey to subdivision developers that dangle the promise of taxes and other shiny bling while hoping to blind the city fathers and mothers to the resulting traffic gridlock and other impacts on local quality of life.

Planning matters. Not planning well has consequences. You only have to look at Martell to see why.

Surely we can do better than this.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Loving the land

A friend and I were talking today about people who value land for more than its development potential.

It made me go back to the Saving the Sierra website to read again about Attilio Genasci. Attilio was a rancher in the Sierra Valley who led a movement to protect large areas of the Sierra Valley through the use of conservation easements. I learned last week that he had passed away at age 98. He lived his entire life on his land.

You can hear Attilio in his own words on the Saving the Sierra site. Here are some of them:

"The land does not belong to me. The land belongs to future generations, and the land also belongs to the general public. ... It’s one of the natural wonders. It’s there for humanity. And we dare not destroy it anymore than we’d cap the geysers in Yellowstone or put the Bridal Veil Falls of Yosemite in a pipe. I think we have a natural wonder here that I’ll do my best to preserve."

There's also a story about Attilio on the Stories from the Heart of the Land website. It'll be aired on National Public Radio's Weekend America show next Saturday, February 9.

Reading about Attilio, I am reminded of Stanley Cuneo, who was the first rancher in this area to put his land in conservation easements. He co-founded the local land trust and was a longtime Foothill Conservancy member and supporter.

Whenever I hear that only urban enviros want to preserve rural lands, I think of men like these, who clearly had a deep and abiding love for the land they called home.