Monday, August 18, 2008

Taxpayer dollars down the drain?

As the Gold Rush project has evolved, several catch phrases have come to mind. “Lipstick on a pig” is one. “Pig in a poke” another. But lately, the most appropriate phrase seems to be “bait and switch.” Here’s why …

Back in 2001, Sutter Creek and the Amador Regional Sanitation Authority were planning for the day ARSA could no longer dispose of wastewater in Ione. The city and ARSA paid $750,000 for the right to spray 1,300 acre feet of wastewater a year on the Noble Ranch, a large parcel on the edge of town. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

The Noble Ranch is the site of the proposed Gold Rush Ranch subdivision. Here's how the Amador Ledger Dispatch described the deal, "In 2001, the city negotiated a public/private partnership to purchase the land, with developers of Gold Rush Golf Resort so that the city and ARSA kept disposal rights and rights to lines, reservoirs and easements on the property."

Ever since then, the public has been led to believe that Gold Rush's golf course and other irrigation needs would solve Sutter Creek's wastewater disposal problem. Just a few weeks ago, a Ledger reporter praised Gold Rush for this very reason.

Apparently the reporter hadn't read the draft EIR for Gold Rush, which was released not long ago. As it turns out, the development itself will keep the city from fully using its disposal easement on the Noble Ranch.

Here's what the pertinent section of the EIR says, "Increased treatment capacity at the WWTP, including that required to treat Project-generated wastewater, will also increase treated effluent disposal and storage requirements. The City retains a 1,300 afy treated effluent disposal spray easement on the 833-acre Noble Ranch portion of the Project site. The Project's use of recycled water from the WWTP will provide for utilization/disposal of approximately 347 afy of this amount (with the development of the golf course intended to facilitate the bulk of this disposal). The remaining 953 afy of the easement will not be available on the Project site as a result of development and other land uses that will be incompatible with use of the spray easement." (emphasis added)

What does it mean? The development of the Noble Ranch will keep ARSA and Gold Rush from using the full wastewater easement they paid for back in 2001.

Further, the development itself will eventually generate more wastewater than anyone plans to use on the site. If Gold Rush is built as proposed, the city will have to find another place for that excess wastewater--as well as all the wastewater from the rest of Sutter Creek! I doubt that’s what the city and ARSA had in mind back when they helped buy the property.

It makes me wonder how long the city has known. One clue should have come in 2006, when Gold Rush released a plan that didn’t acknowledge the wastewater easement. According to a Ledger Dispatch story, ARSA and Sutter Creek City Manager Rob Duke took exception at that time.

The Gold Rush draft EIR indicates that the city is aware of the problem now. It says, “The City’s primary objectives are to ensure that development within the City is in compliance with the City’s General Plan and the City’s implementing ordinances. The City’s objectives also include retaining the existing 1,300 AFY effluent disposal spray easement on the Noble Ranch or ensuring that any loss of the existing easement disposal capacity is replaced without financial impact to the City. Replacement of spray easement capacity may be achieved through a combination of acquisition of easements on alternative effluent disposal sites, additional effluent storage facilities and fees to provide funding for use by the City in securing replacement effluent disposal capacity.” (emphasis added)

Gold Rush is clearly not the solution for Sutter Creek’s future wastewater disposal. And the city knows it. You just have to wonder what else will come to light about the project in the coming weeks.

The public hearing for the EIR is on Monday, August 25.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Gold Rush Ranch - a matter of scale

The Gold Rush Ranch Resort project is being reviewed this summer by the Sutter Creek Planning Commission and City Council. The developers have sold this project to many local residents in their multi-year PR campaign.

Many Sutter Creek residents even think the project has been scaled back from what was proposed years ago. But that's simply not true. Consider that Gold Rush will
  • Have than 1,300 homes, most of which are arranged on the landscape in a typical, large-lot suburban design
  • More than double the city's current population in as few as 10 years, per the EIR
  • Remove more than 13,000 trees over 400 acres, mostly oaks, including nearly 50 percent of the heritage oaks on the site
  • Add more than 13,000 car trips a day to local roads, in an area with some of the worst congestion in the county
  • Mass-grade more than 500 acres
Meetings and public hearings on the project are being held this summer, nearly every week. After years of slowly moving this project along, the developers apparently want to push it through before the November election.

The sheer size of this project in relation to the existing town should give everyone pause.

See a meeting schedule and links to Gold Rush documents here.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Local currencies build local economies

To build a strong local economy, we need to support local small businesses and help them grow.

Using a local currency is a creative way to strengthen a community and help local businesses thrive in the face of competition from the Internet, big box stores, and chains. A local currency is like regular money, but can only be spent locally, and only with businesses that accept it -- which tend to be independent small businesses.

I first read about the use of local currency about 10 years ago, but had pretty much forgotten about the idea until a recent trip to Washington state.

At a coffee shop in Port Angeles, I noticed a sign advertising the town's "Downtown Dollars" program. The dollars can be spent like cash -- but only in the local businesses that accept them.

New England's Berkshire region has a similar local currency called BerkShares. People exchange U.S. dollars for BerkShares at participating banks. For every $90 in federal money, they get 100 BerkShares, which they can spend just like cash in any business that accepts them. That means consumers get a 10 percent discount -- $100 worth of goods or services for $90. Here's an illustration of how it works.

This isn't something new. According to the E.F. Schumacher Society, sponsor of the BerkShare program, "local currencies were widely used in the United States in the early 1900s."

There are many ways to help build a stronger local economy. This might be one of them.

More info

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Still no answer

I still don't have an answer to the chicken-and-egg question I posed last month -- whether Jim Conklin of the Amador County Business Council came to local business people to organize them or whether they sought him out. Jack Mitchell never replied to my queries.

I did learn a little more, though. Conklin's Amador group will have a 10-member board. He's asking groups to pay $2,500 for a seat on it. The council will also have 25 general members, who must pay $1,000 to participate. Direction is set by the board but must be ratified by a 2/3 vote of the 35 members. Conklin gets all the money.

So Conklin, who already heads at least three other groups of this type in other counties, will be paid $50,000 by local people -- money that could be going to the Amador Council of Tourism, the Amador Economic Development Corporation, or other organizations already working on building a stronger local economy. Nice gig.

What's he going to do for that money? I guess you have to join the group, or watch the news, to find out. Since he's already been to the planning commission and supervisors on matters related to the general plan update, perhaps we'll see him at the Gold Rush hearings this summer.