Fear and ‘visioning’

Michael Raffety

July 14, 2014

As the so-called “visioning” thing proceeds in community plans under the assistance of consultants, so far there is little actual feedback that has come back to the board other than a happy-talk “Community Planning Guide” that is sorely lacking in specifics.

In a recent general presentation to the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors the community “visioning process” didn’t become any clearer.

As explained by our reporter on the scene at the board’s presentation June 24, the community plan will generally describe how the community sees itself, how it would like to see itself and what opportunities there are for economic development within these community design guides.

“‘The first step is to identify diverse community perspectives, gather existing mailing lists and build a master contact list. Then the planning can begin for the first outreach steps, to discover community values and priorities; what does the community care about the most?’ the guide states.”

And here is where our fears reside. Relying on master mailing lists of community activists is a prescription for preventing any progress or innovation. El Dorado Hills, for example, long had a committee that reviewed all development plans and building projects. The “committee” eventually became the project of one person with a rotating cast of one or two others at best. And that’s what the community “visioning process” will eventually come down to — one or two activists dictating design and development for a whole community.

Consider the following description by our reporter on the scene: “If a full, formal plan is being prepared, the group must create a system of ‘governance’ with board approval to oversee and enforce the completed plan.”

These community systems of “governance” will always start out with high falutin’ goals and ideals, but always degenerate into being the hobby of a few determined activists, such as the  former supervisorial candidate who told the Board of Supervisors that the Community Economic Development Advisory Committee is a “hostile environment to the communities.”

CEDAC, contrary to that shrill overreaction, is a broad-based group of volunteers that has been working for at least five years to clean up the regulatory thicket of thorns that has grown up around county planning, bringing some sense to it and actually start a process for implementing zoning to conform to the county General Plan. Where we part ways with CEDAC is its call for community regions to create a vision, including design guidelines.

What communities in El Dorado County have the best designs? Placerville, Georgetown and El Dorado Hills.

Placerville and Georgetown arrived at their appearance as a result of history. In other words, no two buildings are alike. They all were built by individual property owners. Placerville, especially, is an accumulation of styles acquired in the 19th century, 20th century and some in the 21st century.

El Dorado Hills, by contrast, in its commercial areas, is a result of three different developers. Most prominent among them is Tony Mansour and the Town Center he created. There is so much variety in the building styles in Town Center, but it is all the vision of one developer. There was no committee, no group that dictated designs to Mansour. He didn’t even know what he was going to do when he began. The first sketches he outlined for us showed only an entry road, a gas station and a fast food restaurant. It was an inauspicious beginning, but what a magnificent overall result he has produced. It has lived up to the name of Town Center, a place that El Dorado Hills residents love for its variety of restaurants, shops, theaters, groceries and services and plenty of parking.

On Missouri Flat behind Kmart a new center is rising and we have faith that its developer will produce something that El Dorado County residents will love. The first, small phase of that larger center is already interesting. Near Kmart a new Ross store is completed and preparing to open. Across the street the relatively new center with Safeway is a hive of activity. That, and other developments along Missouri Flat were made possible by the huge improvements wrought on Missouri Flat Road and the overpass. That’s what the county needs to do — provide the infrastructure. Leave the “visioning” to the people who can really make it happen.


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