Significant Impacts in Elk Grove's Sphere Of Influence; The City Has No Explicit Expansion Plans- Yet

by Michael Monasky | Thursday, May 2, 2013 | The Sacramento County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) held a public hearing...

by Michael Monasky | Thursday, May 2, 2013 |

The Sacramento County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) held a public hearing last night to discuss the recirculated Draft Environmental Impact Report (Draft EIR). The document considers an application by the City of Elk Grove to expand its southern and eastern boundaries by about 8,000 acres, or just under 12 square miles.

The environmental impact report is being recirculated because it was never finalized in 2011; the application and document didn't appear to be ready for prime time. The city's expansion plans are complicated by the fact that the city is not directly responsible for water, drainage, sewer, and a number of other public utilities which are controlled regionally.

The city has found resistance to expansion in a complex habitat conservation plan which is still in development. And, the city must find nearby open space to mitigate the loss of 8,000 acres of wildlife habitat and agricultural land.

Attorneys and developers representing landowners that favor the expansion declared the draft environmental document adequate. Among those supporting the document were Mike Wakeman, a fifth generation sheep rancher and Thom Mahon, whose family has farmed and ranched in Elk Grove since 1882. McMahon said that the development could create a center of employment near freeways, rail service, and an anticipated connector between I-5 and El Dorado Hills.

Real estate attorney George Phillips, speaking on behalf of Mahon and property owners expressed support for the Draft EIR. Joe Daehling, who has 400 acres, of which 200 are in the SOI, also voiced support.

“There's nothing wrong with good planning,” Daehling said.

Just what that plan is seems to elude even the city

Elk Grove City Planning chief Taro Echibaru appeared before the commission but announced that the merits of the project are still pending full annexation of the area since the city council has no actual plan. Alternate sites discussed in the environmental document were suggested by LAFCo staff, and not the city, he maintained.

Elk Grove City Council member Patrick Hume made informal remarks about the “plate tectonics” of pressure to build. Hume went on to say that the application for expansion was “city-driven, not developer-driven,” and that the SOI was a “planning tool” meant to pre-empt developer plans with those of the city. He also stated that the scenarios in the Draft EIR were “potential uses, not planned uses.”

Barbara Morse Wackford gave some history of the expansion and growth pains of the city and said that her family's 1,000 acres has shrunk to only 200 acres today, due to the demise of farming.

“There was a land rush when the urban services boundary expanded from Elk Grove Boulevard to Kammerer Road,” Wackford said.

Wackford went on to say that her support for the Draft EIR was premised upon what she saw as “smart growth, in close proximity.” Wackford also counts on the construction of the Hood-Franklin/El Dorado Hills connector.

Not all long-time, rural residents support the SOI expansion. Connie Georgiu worries that her well in Elk Grove will run dry, and calls the project sprawl. She hopes that LAFCo will behave as a responsible land bank to hold back rampant growth.

Ed Owen still farms and ranches and has seen “drops in the water table” affecting his well and irrigation resources. Owen said that the jobs/housing ratio in Elk Grove is very poor, and the expansion of the city will not improve job supply. Owen also has serious concerns about drainage issues in the Cosumnes River/Deer Creek flood plain, and promised pictures of water flows on his property.

“Developers want this, not citizens,” Elk Grove rural resident Nikki Carpenter said.

Carpenter expressed concern there is “no transparency” at Elk Grove City Hall on the process and added the focus should instead be on developing in-fill projects in the city.

Sharon Lynes, a 38-year Elk Grove resident agreed saying the “closed mall and infill” should be the city's focus. Lynes argued that the city paid for the Draft EIR and has a conflict of interest in that the city's “application is all about development.”

LAFCo held a community workshop about the SOI topic on April 23, in large part due to efforts by Elk Grove resident Lynn Wheat to bring the issue to the people. Wheat urged the commissioners to consider the fiscal consequences of city expansion in a poor economy.

“These ideas were not vetted with the residents,” Wheat said.

She also said that dialogue is especially necessary because “this is a big-time change” in the form and structure of the city.

Susan Pecci brought up a novel concern about agricultural tourism. Which was mentioned in the Draft EIR, and the effects wine tasting and bottling facilities could have upon city infrastructure. Pecci also enumerated agricultural and urban conflicts missing in the Draft EIR.

The City of Elk Grove has a poor record with the environmental community

The city's expansion application flies in the face of the South County Habitat Conservation Plan according to Jude Lamare who spoke on behalf of Friends Of the Swainson Hawk (FOSH). Lamare asserted the city has ignored the county-wide, big-picture of the habitat plan.

Biologist Sean Wirth of The Sierra Club said the Draft EIR was flawed and that if the city looked at the region from 30,000 feet overhead it would see two major bird areas for nesting and foraging and a flood plain in the Cosumnes River that is inundated every 7-10 years. Wirth said that after floods birds, mammals, reptiles and other protected species migrate upland to the very parcels the city wants to annex.

FOSH attorney Jim Pachl noted that the city has identified no market for the expansion, and that it was LAFCo's duty to protect the region from further sprawl. Jesse Roseman of the Cosumnes River Preserve said that the region has invested $50,000,000 in setting aside 50,000 acres of agricultural lands for dual use as wetlands and wildlife habitat. The widening of Franklin Boulevard, Bruceville, and Kammerer Roads will create an adverse impact on these populations, Roseman added that urbanization of 8,000 acres in this vicinity will also affect flood, drainage, and water supplies. He said neither these concerns nor their mitigation were addressed in the Draft EIR.

Governor Jerry Brown's huge Bay-Delta water diversion project further complicates the Elk Grove's expansion plans. The tunnels will disrupt agricultural and wildlife habitat in Elk Grove's back yard that will have to be replaced. The closest area is the annexation site chosen by the city. Additionally, the Connector Joint Powers Authority, which oversees the route between Hood-Franklin and El Dorado Hills, has hit a funding barrier that will likely ditch the road project essential to developing the annexation site.

The public can comment on the draft EIR until 4 p.m., Tuesday, May 21, 2013. A final EIR will be prepared sometime in June. LAFCo will hold additional hearings to approve or reject the environmental document. If the final EIR is approved, then the city's application for expansion of the Sphere Of Influence will be decided by the commission. Should the SOI be approved, the city of Elk Grove would be free to expand its borders through the process of annexation.

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Anonymous said...

Great recap...Thanks!

Capt. Benjamin L. Willard said...

The big take away from this is the following line from Mr. Monasky's story - "the city council has no actual plan".

The reason they have no plan is not incompetence, rather they likely have plans but willfully choose to be evasive. Any one care to guess what the real plan for this area is?

Rural Area Beware said...

Pat Hume is supposed to represent the rural area. Yeah right! Should could tell by his comments at the meeting last night for whom he really is advoccating even with his constituents sitting right there in the audience.

By the looks of it, his only interests are the developers, and he said it himself at a recent council meeting, we need more rooftops, rooftops, rooftops. Believe him people!

Pat Hume revealed himself very long ago about who is his, what he stands for and his true character. But the rural area residents believed his lies. No more!

Let’s hope the voters are now paying close attention. Hume is very beatable in 2014!!

Rocky Balboa said...

The fighters came out swinging, you could almost smell the money (to be made) in the room. Farmers who no longer wish to carry on their family tradition threw some body shots and uppercuts, chasing that ultimate prize. The "Industry" bobbed and weaved, danced a bit, but let the judges know who controls the purse strings. The Little People threw some rabbit punches and darted in and out, avoiding the knockout punch and to return healthy to fight Round Two. The Greenies sat and cheered for the upset win and may try to go on the People's Court show to see Judge Wapner. And finally, the "Management" sat ringside and kept one eye on the betting pool, watching the odds and crunching numbers on their abacus, with the other eye on the judges--almost to say we got you covered, right?

P.T. Barnum's spirit dropped by also--he must have thought this was a carnival, and if you listened carefully, you could almost hear the dribbling sound of the basketballs bouncing off the hoops that are too small for the balls.

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