By DAVE BONNOT
Five years ago, over 7,000 voters signed referendum petitions to vote on the huge subdivision known as Mountain Springs.
Despite wide-spread concern and hundreds of objections lodged by existing county residents, the Board of Supervisors approved the development. When faced with a referendum vote of the people, the developers quickly withdrew the proposal.
Now, the Mountain Springs developers are back and the latest round of environmental reports has just been released. Voters Choice, the broad-based group of community residents who spearheaded the original referendum drive, had hopes that significant changes would have been made to address existing residents' concerns.
We are extremely disappointed that the serious impacts this large subdivision (along with its hotel and shops) will have on our quality of life remain unmitigated. The cost of a subdivision of this size for the existing community and rural environment is too high. Mountain Springs' developers are asking our community to absorb the negative consequences so they can realize huge profits.
It would be disastrous if county decision makers approve the project once again. Even with the reduction to 897 homes, it is still a very large subdivision, with 45 acres of commercial development (The Junction Shopping Center, by comparison, is 23 acres). It would still require 1,063 acres to be converted from agricultural zoning.
The agricultural landscape lost is significant because we already have over 30,000 acres in this county zoned for residential development. To top it off, the county already has an abundance of the types of homes being proposed. In other words, we don't need the homes and we don't need to convert more agricultural land.
The Board of Supervisor's Agricultural Advisory Committee refused to recommend approval of this subdivision, twice.
The water pipeline TUD has recommended to serve the project is larger than needed to serve the Mountain Springs development, especially with the reduction in the number of homes proposed.
The extra capacity raises a significant issue about the additional growth that would be accommodated by this pipe. The southwest part of the county and the three miles between this new subdivision and Sonora will surely be filled with a large number of additional homes if water is provided there. However, water is a highly variable part of our domestic and agricultural infrastructure.
TUD's customers are currently on voluntary water rationing so TUD can avoid buying water from PG&E at $6,000 a day. Agricultural customers have been cut back 20 per cent. So now we're asked to add 897 more homes to this system? Who do you think will absorb the costs of that extra water from PG&E?
Other serious infrastructure concerns are roads and emergency response services. Tuolumne County has an estimated $8,000,000 backlog of maintenance on our 600 miles of deteriorating roads.
Police and fire services are stretched thin and our sheriff's department is severely understaffed.
A fire protection facility is not part of the developers' proposal which places all properties adjacent to the project in danger.
Good planning involves keeping sprawl in check by insisting that new development locate next to existing communities. The three miles between Mountain Springs and Sonora would experience a daily increase in traffic of over 6,370 vehicles a day by the developer's conservative estimates.
You think traffic is bad in the Sonora area now, just wait until we've mixed in all of these new folks coming over to the hospital or to the Crossroads shopping area.
The new supplemental EIR states that the traffic impacts are something they can do nothing about. It's just too bad for us. Our narrow, winding, already-overburdened roads were never intended for such high volumes of traffic.
Our General Plan advocates reasonably-sized infill development. It is what we should insist on. Mountain Springs is not an infill project nor is it reasonably-sized for a rural area. All state infrastructure monies are now being tied to three directives passed by the California State Assembly.
They direct counties to encourage infill development, discourage destroying "working landscapes" such as those surrounding the Mountain Springs subdivision, and to do more compact development at less cost to taxpayers. Mountain Springs fits none of these criteria.
Mountain Springs will not benefit the county. Studies have consistently shown that no matter what a subdivision pumps into the local economy through taxes and fees, the services required by that subdivision far outweigh its contributions.
The "affordable homes" are for moderate-income families who make a minimum of $66,000 a year.
Most employees at Mountain Springs will make far less, which means this project will add to the jobs-housing imbalance, not help it.
Mountain Springs remains a jarring wake-up call to anyone who believes that growth in Tuolumne County should pay its own way and not further aggravate dwindling public services.
Our General Plan clearly states that conversion of agricultural lands must only be made when there is a public benefit of such magnitude to justify sacrificing a key part of our heritage. Where is the benefit to the public?
There is a hearing on Monday at 7p.m. in the Board of Supervisors' chambers on the fourth floor of the County Administrative Center, 2 South Green St.
Please come and let the planning department and the developers know what you think of this oversized subdivision in the middle of prime agricultural land. Tell them you are a voter and your choice is for responsible growth, not sprawl.
For further information please visit www.tuolumnevoterschoice.com.
Dave Bonnot, of Tuolumne, is a member of the Voters Choice Steering Committee.