Sunday, November 16, 2008

Planning is more than theory

We took a salmon-watching trip on the Yuba River yesterday. To get there, we drove north through Amador, El Dorado, Placer and Nevada counties before heading west to Parks Bar, where the salmon spawn. It's a long trip.

The route's full of lessons relevant to the update of our county general plan, the "constitution" for future growth and development.

Amador still has a good number of working ranches along the northbound route. There are some ranches in southern El Dorado, but fewer and fewer as you head north.

Instead, as you drive through our neighboring foothill counties, you see suburban ranchettes that have chopped up the wildlife habitat, subdivisions in forests just waiting to burn, and ugly commercial strip development that looks like Anywhere, USA (hmm ... sorta like Martell). Highway 49 even turns into a freeway outside Grass Valley.

It's a vision of what our future will be if we don't take another course today. And it's a great reminder that land use planning is not an empty theoretical exercise. Planning actually determines what happens on the landscape, shapes communities, and directly affects everyone who lives in or visits a place.

Good planning can help working ranches stay in business, minimize commercial sprawl, and protect wildlife habitat, rivers and streams. It can focus development in towns so we don't need to expand our roads to freeways that no one can afford. It can minimize loss of life and property to wildland fire (and associated costs). And if it's clear on what's allowed where, it's more likely to attract economic investment (investors like certainty).

How can we make sure good planning happens here? For one thing, we need to convince our county's elected and appointed officials that planning actually matters. It's not about reviewing each project application as it comes along and deferring the hard decisions until then -- it's really about creating a clear plan.

Right now, the supervisors and planning commissioners are focused on this question as they review each part of the plan: "Will this limit property rights?"

Property rights matter, but they shouldn't be the only consideration. The officials should also be asking, "Will this keep our county a beautiful, safe, sustainable, and healthy place to live, work, visit and retire?"

In recent general plan hearings, some of the folks on the dais have seemed willing to sacrifice our community character and natural environment on the altar of property rights, without considering where that may lead.

I've seen where it leads. I was there just yesterday. And I don't think it's where most Amador County residents want to go.

It's time to get involved, folks

The supervisors and planning commissioners need to hear from those of you whose primary interest is not developing or subdividing your property. You deserve an equal say in our county's future. Tell them what matters to you and why, and remind them that they represent you, too.

Give your supervisor a call at 223-6470 or get involved in the general plan update hearings. For more information and meeting dates, see Amador County's general plan update website and the Foothill Conservancy's Amador County general plan update page.

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