Cities offer revenue for 90% of growth

By C.J. Barbre

In a handsome 20-page report available on the county's website at one can read the latest incarnation of the Tulare County General Plan update.

But the supervisors were not happy when they were told of changes during a workshop at the Aug. 16 Tulare County Board of Supervisors meeting.

"We're focused on percentages but reality is we can sit here and plan all day and night but the eight incorporated cities can do what they want. We want to preserve what is special to us. We're planning and controlling on paper things we have no control over," complained Board Chairman and District 2 Supervisor Connie Conway.

All of the supervisors except Phil Cox, who represents Visalia, were distressed that the unincorporated communities were all put on the back burner or taken out of the kitchen altogether, except Earlimart, Goshen, Pixley and Tipton, all on the Highway 99 corridor and all expected to more than double in growth.

The various charts showed 80% of new population growth to the cities, with those four communities getting 12% to more than double their populations by 2030, while the remaining 16 unincorporated communities would get 5%, with 3% to other rural areas.

County Counsel Kathleen Bales-Lange said, "Unless the cities adopt the county's general plan, the county is not in a position to unilaterally direct these changes."

The answer they were told was revenue sharing according to Planning Consultant Bruce Race of Race Studio in Berkeley, Calif. who has been conducting the workshops.

And that is what Visalia and Tulare offered, if the county will allow them 90% of future growth in the cities. Visalia Mayor Bob Link said in return they would share revenue and city services to develop county areas adjacent to the cities, which basically sounds like a way to further enlarge the cities whether they are actually within the incorporated boundaries or not.

"You know we don't have the money and resources to fix infrastructure throughout the county," District 4 Supervisor Steve Worthley said.

"When I look at unincorporated communities, growth would help with economies of scale. It seems to me we have a bad situation and this makes it worse. It says, [he said, referring to the General Plan update booklet] 'County continues quality of life in unincorporated communities.' How? We've been unable to do it so far. The cities are going to continue to grow of their own accord and if we don't allow growth in the unincorporated communities, how?"

Race responded that was a concern for redevelopment agencies.

"A lot of these communities don't have any of these things," Worthely went on. "In many cases we are the elected officials who speak for the unincorporated communities and have a responsibility to stand up for them. If somebody comes along with a pot of money to develop housing and we say no, then we're saying 'This is what you have and it won't change.' I don't think it's reasonable for growth to be limited to 5%. We have to allow for more growth."

Race went back to saying, "Cities would help balance the checkbook. We're looking at the capacity of these cities to grow. Why aren't [the unincorporated communities] growing if they're entitled to?"

District 5 Supervisor Jim Maples said, "Numbers really don't relate for me. Could we say 20,000 people have to leave Visalia and move to Tipton? People choose to live where they want based on schools, health facilities - people who have had four heart attacks choose to live in the mountains [a long drive from health facilities].

"We're looking at a map, not talking hard and fast numbers," Cox said. "I would like to see very specific target areas, and not just throw a blanket over the entire county."

"My goal is to grow some unincorporated areas until they become incorporated and self sufficient," said District 1 Supervisor Allen Ishida. "You've completely left out Poplar and Strathmore." Ishida had noted earlier that he represents three incorporated cities and eight unincorporated communities.

"Obviously some areas are more strategically located, but look at Ivanhoe. They have a redevelopment agency, but have no way of generating money. Traver is along 99 and has some major industries. I think it has great potential," Worthley said.

"If ever an area needed to be incorporated it is Cutler/Orosi," Maples said. "But there was never a way they could figure out how to foot the bill to incorporate."

Worthley said Farmersville and Woodlake were in the same boat. He said they would not be able to incorporate today, that they were "barely hanging on by the skin of their teeth."

Race said the larger goal was economic diversification. "Let's erase boundaries for a bit."

But it was going into overtime on what had been a very long day. The clock was pushing past 5 p.m.

"In 1960 I read about economic diversification in the Fresno Bee. Forty years later I'm still reading about it," Ishida complained.

Race put things back on a positive note. "There's been a huge drop in unemployment. As a county you've made some huge strides. It's at like 8%. Sixteen years ago Wal-Mart brought in a distribution center to Porterville."

Maples noted that Porterville, Tulare and Visalia have their own economic development groups.

"Sales tax sharing would be one of the most beneficial . . ." Worthley ruminated.

"This county is a national story," Race asserted. He said they tried to introduce revenue sharing in Sacramento but "haves" fought against the "have nots" to prevent it.

"This is the first time I've seen it in writing," Maples said.

You could see the resistance crumbling.

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