General Plan now looks at growth in unincorporated areas of county

By C.J. Barbre

A report in the Aug. 24 Sun Gazette told of the disenchantment by four of five county supervisors on the direction planning consultant Bruce Race of Racestudio in Berkeley had charted for unincorporated communities in the county.

This was followed by an editorial in the Sept. 7 Sun-Gazette spelling out why unincorporated communities need growth.

These people listen.

Race had been touting the idea that cities could help balance the checkbook if they were given 90% of new growth in exchange for revenue sharing, which would have, in effect, left some very poor communities in the lurch. Only District 3 Supervisor Phil Cox, who represents Visalia, agreed with that approach.

At the Oct. 4 Board of Supervisors meeting, Race was back with some &#8221policy alternatives“ and the assistance of Rick Rust from Matrix Design Group.

&#8221What we’re really looking for is guidance to make sure we have everything you said, so when we make the next document, we have what the board wants,“ Rust said.

In a &#8221Summary of Key Policy Direction“ the first item was now to &#8221provide opportunity for small unincorporated communities to grow“ followed by &#8221reducing rural residential development potential“ by such things as zoning for smaller parcels (e.g., 2.5 acre lots). No. 3 was to facilitate privately funded upgrading of facilities in unincorporated communities in conjunction with new development which is already happening. It was deemed a positive move to allow existing agricultural facilities in rural areas to be used for new businesses (including non-agricultural uses) if they provided employment.

District 1 Supervisor Allen Ishida said he would like to see some of the ag processing facilities changed to industrial zones, which would certainly facilitate other uses.

And nobody wants this area to become another Los Angeles County. The final key policy was &#8221preserve open space separators between cities and communities, particularly along State Route 99.“

&#8221We saw a pattern that really demonstrates your values and commitment to improve the lives of all county residents,“ Race said. He called it an &#8221inclusive view of the future that is practical, supportable and sustainable.“

Value Statements included:

1. The County will create and facilitate opportunities to improve the lives of all county residents.

2. The County will protect its agricultural economy while diversifying employment opportunities.

3. Every community will have the opportunity to prosper from economic growth.

4. The beauty of the county and the health of its residents will be protected.

5. Growth will pay its own way providing sustainable high quality infrastructure and services.

&#8221One of the clear messages from the board is you want an action-oriented plan, rather than a passive plan,“ Race said.

District 4 Supervisor Steve Worthley wanted to see No. 4 changed to &#8221enhanced beauty, not just protected, but enhanced.“

Cox said No. 4 should be No. 1 and and they should change health to health and safety. &#8221I would challenge all of us, every time when we meet, to review this first,“ he said.

Under Economic Development was listed private investment to create opportunities that improve the quality of life of county residents; economic diversification to diversify sustainable economic opportunities in the county’s unincorporated towns and places and incorporated cities; and to protect the ag economy. No disagreements here.

Land use was a little pricklier. A broad goal was Urban-rural Interface descried as &#8221to protect valuable agricultural and scenic natural lands from urban encroachment.“

&#8221Every time Visalia and Dinuba expand, it’s into ag land,“ Worthley said. &#8221We can talk about urban density, but if we say no more using ag land, it’s not going to happen, so why have it number 1?“

&#8221As we work through strategies, this is the tough one. We’re gonna grow, but the overall goal is doing it intelligently. We have to be realistic,“ Race said.

&#8221I’m more concerned about how we’re using the land than a negative statement,“ Worthley replied. &#8221We have the sense that we are just a holding company until the cities want to use land. The idea that we can somehow capture this energy needs an affirmative statement.“

Race said he would make some adjustments.

&#8221We have not included the Yokhol Ranch proposal in the General Plan amendment,“ Ishida said.

Race said that was a separate category.

&#8221New towns should have some employment base,“ Rust said. &#8221How do we take best advantage of areas that already have potential for growth? What we are trying to do is provide appropriate opportunities, limiting the range of non-ag use.“ He said they plan to highlight the key defining attributes of each community and create policy packages, &#8221such as challenge with a sewer system that will guide you through as far as being proactive to needs of each community.“

They touched on infrastructure including maintaining roads and providing public facilities and services for unincorporated towns and places.

&#8221There will be some communities where septic makes sense, but if a large development moves in, what do we think is adequate?“ Rust said. He said police and fire protection are big items.

&#8221In my mind it’s more of risk assessment,“ Worthley said. &#8221If I choose to live in a remote location, I don’t expect to live next to a firehouse or medical services.

&#8221I appreciate the changes you guys have made, you listened,“ Worthley added, regarding the newest incarnation of the General Plan amendment.

Under the final category, Natural (and Scenic) Resources, Worthley teased that that they needed to add a line about &#8221utilization of natural resources – not exploitation.“

But Rust was all business. The three categories were water, air quality and scenic resources. He said they needed to enhance quality and supply of water. There needed to be improved capturing and storage of water. He said air quality would be improved by reducing auto trips, commute times and putting industry near homes.

Race said the next phase was getting community profiles. We go through and identify land use and give a brief description of services. Libraries, do they have one? How many schools? Are they impacted by Judge Karlton’s decision? Do they have transit service? We use this for a point of departure.“ Race said it also helps define opportunities, making communities more responsive to outside interest. &#8221It helps think about future needs and helps define the county position.“ He said a lot of different departments would have to weigh in. &#8221At the end we will have a story about each place in the county. This will be in our experience a unique approach in California.“ It’s not a static tool at this point. We will continue to refine…a very excitying and qunique approach.

“I feel like we’re on track here,” said board chairman and District 2 Supervisor Connie Conway. “In the unicoporation areas the theme was always quality of life.”

“We have a kind of game with a policy of no issues left behind, Rust said. Race said the next step is to prepare goals and policies report and implementation measures and make sure they are realistic.

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