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Green Means Go hits red

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A proposal for the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors to sign a resolution to designate three Green Zones as a part of the Sacramento Area Council of Government’s Green Means Go pilot program was met with considerable resistance.

The proposal is a multi-year pilot program designed to lower greenhouse gas emissions in the six-county Sacramento region by accelerating infill development through infrastructure investments, reducing vehicle trips and promoting clean mobility options in targeted areas, called Green Zones.

County staff at the April 13 Board of Supervisors meeting noted there is currently no state funding for the Green Means Go pilot program but Assembly Bill 1209, if enacted, would codify the Green Means Go Grant and Loan Program.

The three proposed Green Zones in El Dorado County are all in established community regions where new growth is planned. If grant/loan funding becomes available, it could be used toward housing, transit improvements, broadband, electric vehicle infrastructure, bicycle/pedestrian improvements and electric bike share programs in any or all of the Green Zones.

One Green Zone is in El Dorado Hills as more than 50% of the workforce in the El Dorado Hills Business Park commutes from other parts of the region.

A second Green Zone would be Cameron Park. It was selected because it’s adjacent to Highway 50, a portion of the community is identified as low income as 40% or more of residents live at 200% or less of the federal poverty level and a large percentage of its residents commute outside of the area to work. It also has more than 320 acres with more than 129 parcels available for commercial or industrial development. Development would bring jobs closer to the area and reduce the need to commute.

A third Green Zone is Diamond Springs. Most of the area was identified by SACOG as a low-income and disadvantaged community where 40% or more of the people live at 200% or less of the federal poverty level. In addition, roughly 20% of the residents are either elderly or disabled.

Rafael Martinez, director of the county Department of Transportation, said he wanted to assure everyone that the resolution was not a way to sneak in a controversial project without due process or a ploy by SACOG to bypass the county General Plan and increase the county’s density. He also said the resolution was not related to Senate Bill 35.

That bill, passed in 2017, was designed to streamline housing construction in areas government thinks is not producing enough housing by encouraging cities to either increase housing development or force them to accept housing development.

Martinez emphasized the county is up against a deadline, saying by next month they need to let SACOG know whether or not they plan to sign the resolution. Doing so would make the county eligible for grants/loans if the legislation ultimately passes. If they don’t sign the resolution, they won’t be eligible later.

Voicing several doubts about the resolution was Supervisor Lori Parlin, who said there were too many assumptions built into it that were not in writing, such as what constitutes “infill development.” Instead she said she wanted to ensure county design standards are in place first. She also didn’t like what was potentially being proposed for the Pine Hill Preserve and other open spaces. Her interpretation of the resolution was that it was about infill housing, with Supervisor George Turnboo agreeing.

“There is a lack of clarity about what’s going on here,” she said, adding that the types of projects being proposed were for more urbanized areas.

Supervisor John Hidahl reiterated Martinez’s warning that if the county doesn’t sign the resolution by next month, the county will bypass any opportunity for grant/loan funding if the legislation passes.

Unconvinced, Parlin countered, saying there is no way of knowing what the final legislation will or won’t include and the county needs to define how the grant funding will be used before signing the resolution. Parlin asked the resolution be revised and brought back for further consideration by the board.

Supervisor Wendy Thomas, who is the board’s representative on SACOG, noted the goal of Green Means Go is to bring housing, retail and jobs closer together as well as change the housing mix to make housing more affordable. She added that the program won’t require new taxes and won’t exacerbate urban sprawl.

Calling in to support the resolution was James Corless, executive director of SACOG, who said it is part of a bottom-up effort to meet housing and air quality targets and was voluntary. Michael Saragosa, who serves on the SACOG board as the city of Placerville’s representative, supported those comments, saying the language in the resolution is deliberately vague so counties can implement the program as they choose, urging action if the area is to hit its green house gas targets. 

However, members of the public calling in to the meeting were overwhelmingly against county leaders signing the resolution. Tom Fox, a resident of the Blackstone development in El Dorado Hills, said he, like others, wanted to retain the county’s rural environment and was concerned signing the resolution would be growth-inducing.

Robert Williams called the resolution premature as it gives SACOG too much power and its goals are inconsistent with the county’s goals. Sue Taylor said it would bring more people here and add high density housing in the county. Others worried how the Green Zone designations would be used in the future or of a resolution that appeared to give control to SACOG. Others urged the board to turn down the resolution, saying repeatedly they didn’t want El Dorado County to become like Sacramento or the Bay Area.

The board ultimately voted on a motion for Martinez to return May 4 with a revised proposal that strengthens the language regarding protecting the county’s character and reflects the comments from the public. That motion was supported by all supervisors except Turnboo.

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