Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Rural sprawl in El Dorado County, California

Carlos Alcala of the Sacramento Bee reports today on a study by two UC Davis scholars who label El Dorado County's planning process dysfunctional, with a focus on exurban and rural issues.  Here's an excerpt:
Past practices and politics mean that the county may not, on its own, be able to create plans for growth that will be sustainable in the long run, according to the paper, titled, "Gold Country:  the politics of landscape in exurban El Dorado County, California." 
"El Dorado County represents a very dysfunctional politics.  It is kind of the cutting edge of dysfunction," said Stephen M. Wheeler, a professor of landscape architecture [and the paper's co-author]. 
The paper's other author, Craig Beebe, labeled the county's efforts at planning "difficult" and "unproductive."
One example is the 14-year struggle to develop a general plan for the county, approved in 2004 and facing some revisions right now.  
The Wheeler-Beebe paper cites several key factors that make planning difficult in El Dorado County:
  • Widespread subdivision of rural lands in the 1970s and 1980s.
  • Economic pressures from development interests.
  • No-growth or slow-groth advocacy.
  • Strong property rights advocacy.  
Alcala quotes some key parts of the paper, including these:
While many elected officials espoused the rhetoric of reality in terms of preserving rural character and lifestyles, in practice they sided with developers seeking to capitalize on that rural ideal by building thousands of homes. 
The prevention of suburban developments often enables continued piecemeal subdivision in the form of rural sprawl, rather than potentially continuing this development to specific areas.
Alcala notes that the term "exurban" in the paper's title "refers to formerly rural areas developed piecemeal" on lots larger than suburban ones, "but too small for agriculture."  

Pictured top is the entrance to just such a development, Showcase Ranches, in Fairplay.  Photos center is a cluster box unit at the entrance to another such development in the Fairplay area.  

Robert Laurie, a private land-use attorney in El Dorado County got his back up over some of the paper's suggestions--in particular the suggestion that locals cannot be entrusted with the planning process, which he sees as part of the "democratic process."  Beebe challenged the characterization of the process as "democratic," though, asserting that development is inevitable, but that the growth v. no growth debate often excludes groups like low-income agricultural and service workers.
Alcala's story helps shed some light on a matter I've speculated about in the past:  candidates for El Dorado County Supervisor touting their rural credentials.  Read more here.

Here is a recent related story from the Bee reporting concern by some in El Dorado County that the United Nations is trying to control its planning process.

Michelle Wilde Anderson of UC Berkeley's law faculty recently published an academic paper on the issue of rural zoning and planning, and how it relates to (and can undermine) urban planning.  It is called "Sprawl's Shepherd:  The Rural County."  Download it here.  


drydiggins said...

Thank You.


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