Oak Rose and the Lawsuits - Is it really about local control or is there something more?

Does Elk Grove have grander, undisclosed plans for Old Town-Historic Downtown Elk Grove? | 


By D.J. Blutarsky | Guest Commentary | 

Is the Oak Rose controversy about local zoning control, or is there more to the story that we don't know about? 

Since Elk Grove's incorporation 23 years ago, the City Council has catered to the region's developers, who tell them what they want to build and where. Innovative city staff then ensured that whatever plans and zoning that needed to be changed to pave the way were then swiftly handled.  The longstanding history of 5-0 City Council votes approving development projects truly demonstrates that the development game in Elk Grove is running like a finely-tuned machine--until Oak Rose came along, that is.

 At first glance, it may appear that the Old Town NIMBYs are pulling the strings of the City Council on Oak Rose, but I offer an alternative possible explanation of why the City Council would endure such embarrassing press releases by the Attorney General and Governor. 

A few months ago, the City started referring to Old Town as "Historic Downtown Elk Grove" and rebadged that congested two-lane stretch of Elk Grove Blvd. to "Main Street." Then the Mayor proclaimed on June 28th, that Historic Downtown Elk Grove will be a tourist destination like San Diego's famed "Gaslamp Quarter." Do they know something we don't know?

The plan for Old Town is contained in the Old Town Special Planning Area document (OTSPA). That document was originally adopted by the County in 1985 and subsequently updated by the City in 2005, 2010, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2021. However, as we can easily see, having a plan doesn't necessarily equate to change per se, and Old Town seems stuck in a time warp--not much has changed in the past 20-30 years, except for a brewpub, large patio, and a public restroom!

In late 2021, the City began a highly publicized and comprehensive update of the OTSPA and its requisite environmental impact study. All of this was supposed to be completed and released to the public this past summer, however, we have not heard a peep about it. I would suggest that the new plan could be a bombshell and show how Old Town will be the valley's version of the Gaslamp Quarter, money permitting, of course.

I must admit that I had quite a laugh when out of the blue, the Mayor gushed that Historic Downtown Elk Grove would be like the Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego. I've visited the San Diego Gaslamp district several times, and I've heard of stretching the truth or dreaming big, but this statement by the Mayor was off the charts of believability--or was it?

Could it be that this overdue OTSPA document outlines a drastic revitalization of Old Town that goes way beyond a name change and a few brew pubs?

Could it be that the OTSPA shows a realignment of Elk Grove Blvd. that cuts a swath through neighborhoods and opens the door for City property acquisition through eminent domain?

Could it be that the new OTSPA shows a drastic increase in building height and density that virtually guarantees that some of the existing buildings along Main Street will be demolished and new ones built?

Could it be that the new OTSPA includes a financing plan that shows the City committing to massive economic development assistance for new building construction, parking facilities, streetscape, and other infrastructure?

Could it be that the draft OTSPA document is being reviewed behind the scenes by the "silent partners" composed of Old Town land owners, potential real estate investors/developers, and federal/state grant providers who have been meeting in private to help bring the plan to fruition? What would they think of Oak Rose?

All of this is conjecture on my part because I take what the Mayor said about Old Town seriously, and I am trying to put the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together. I find it hard to believe that a relatively small group of NIMBYs who statistically could not sway the outcome of any election would lead our City Council down this long, expensive, and embarrassing path of litigation. I have assumed that the City Council is visionary and deliver what they promise.

On the other hand, maybe I am wrong. Maybe a small vocal group of NIMBYs did intimidate the City Council into two lawsuits; maybe the City did not drop the ball and let the Oak Rose property slip through their fingers when it was listed for sale; and maybe the Mayor was just offering the Gaslamp District as a soundbite, and I took her too seriously. 

Maybe Elk Grove is just one big stage stop with plenty of drive-thrus!


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4 comments

Randy Bekker said...

Let’s talk reality one may look at an over flow meeting that hadn’t happened since maybe the last year, the CNU debate or the Casino a few years ago. Even with by District voting the Mayor and Council witnessed what they might be up against if they tried to change Old Town where citizens were opposed. It would not end well with them as they realize the important of citizens challenging their local government. C.J. got an ear full at the Planning Commission over the General Plan update that included Old Town properties. After receiving a tongue lashing he respectfully pulled it from the General Plan update. So what the Council and Mayor will take from this is. Make our Old Town (Historical District) the way the citizens want it and everyone will be happy and they will be better for it.

Randy Bekker said...

Let’s talk reality one may look at an over flow meeting that hadn’t happened since maybe the last year, the CNU debate or the Casino a few years ago. Even with by District voting the Mayor and Council witnessed what they might be up against if they tried to change Old Town where citizens were opposed. It would not end well with them as they realize the important of citizens challenging their local government. C.J. got an ear full at the Planning Commission over the General Plan update that included Old Town properties. After receiving a tongue lashing he respectfully pulled it from the General Plan update. So what the Council and Mayor will take from this is. Make our Old Town (Historical District) the way the citizens want it and everyone will be happy and they will be better for it.

Steve L said...

Randy: yes, citizens and council members are upset with an out of area developer ramming an unwanted project down our throats. Unfortunately, Cal law currently allows this. Why? Because many municipalities, including EG have refused for YEARS to meet state mandates for low income housing. No one wants it next to them. Result: SB35. Almost all of our low income housing to date is in Dist 4 where there is the least push back due to it being the district with the most open space. Every city council in our history bears responsibility, not just our current iteration. The large majority of those who spoke at council live in Old Town. That’s Mr. Brewer’s district. He will likely bear the brunt of citizen displeasure in the next voting cycle. Council members from our other three districts will likely avoid any substantial voting flack related to this development. 300 from one district does not equate to city wide distain. Sadly, we are in a no- win situation legally. SB35 needs to be modified, until then, no local control. It’s the law.

Juan Trippe said...

Though it is not widely known, not long after he opened his Arco station on Sheldon Road and got his billboard erected along 99 that brings this fair city light, Gill Moore attempted to purchase the parcel the Oak Rose group bought. Mr. Moore's plan was for a similar operation with a car wash, convenience store, and wine shop.

Needless to say, it didn't happen for various reasons, not the least of which was opposition from those who wanted to preserve, such as it is, of Old Town.

Is this not irony?

You have to suspect that the people complaining about the Oak Rose project could have had, at least by their definition, a much less intrusive operation next to what will become the library. Their obstinance got in the way.

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