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Calaveras takes right step with moratorium

The decision by Calaveras County supervisors to impose a 45-day moratorium on rezoning applications and general plan amendments is appropriate and timely.

The moratorium will put major development on hold until the county planning staff can deal with a backlog of more than 150 project applications. It will also give the county time to draft and adopt new processing guidelines consistent with anticipated changes in the general plan.

Given the speed of government, it is unlikely this can be accomplished in just a month and a half. But law allows extension of the moratorium for more than 10 months.

Meanwhile, a county-hired consultant is working on a new general plan to replace the present, 1996 version, but that document may not be complete for nearly two years.

The importance of this issue is clear: Growth was virtually the only issue in the hard-fought and bitter supervisorial race in District 5, the west-county epicenter of Calaveras County development pressures. And the moratorium proposal drew more than 200 to Monday's board meeting, held at the Metropolitan in San Andreas to accommodate the crowd.

The future of Calaveras County, clearly, is crucial to many.

Critics last week complained that the moratorium would have grave consequences for real estate-related businesses, such as brokers, title companies, appraisers and builders. But with 5,800 approved and buildable lots available and with the 150 projects in the pipeline unaffected by the moratorium, a recession seems unlikely.

The consequences of doing nothing could be far more dire.

Think back to 1996, when Calaveras County's present general plan was last revised. Who foresaw then the kind of growth that would hit the quiet communities of Valley Springs and Copperopolis?

A study commissioned by the Sierra Nevada Alliance estimates that Calaveras County's population will increase by nearly 50 percent by 2020. Some estimate that within a few decades 100,000 people could live in the Copperopolis area alone. And even today pending development projects in the Valley Springs area could add nearly 2,500 new homes.

This is no time to rely on a plan that was last revised 10 years ago and last totally overhauled a decade before that. The plan's policies and assumptions are no doubt out of date and its relationship to what the citizens of Calaveras County want is questionable.

There is a reason the state requires general plan updates every 10 years and opponents of the board moratorium should be careful what they wish for.

In the past, counties that have flouted state planning law have been taken to court by the Attorney General's office and find unwelcome bureaucrats from state Office of Planning and Research monitoring development decisions.

Calaveras County's own moratorium, enacted in good faith, should guard against such distasteful consequences.

The board should also be commended for voting to do away with a flawed policy that allowed underwater acreage at Tulloch Reservoir and other county waters to be used in computing the number of homes allowed on dry-land portions of property.

Questionable to begin with, the demise of "density transfers" will not be mourned.

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Union Democrat editorial positions are formed through regular meetings of the newspaper's editorial board — Publisher Geoff White, Managing Editor Patty Fuller and senior reporter-columnist Chris Bateman.

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