By RON KOPF
After years of re-planning and listening to county residents and officials, the Mountain Springs Community plan has been significantly revised with many public benefits, and the extensive Environmental Impact Report has been updated and submitted.
Proposed housing has been reduced by over 60 PERCENT from the previous plan to 897 homes, with 117 of the homes designated as affordable housing for county service employees and residents. Nearly 50 percent of the community is open space, and includes 7.5 miles of public trails, 32 acres of public parks and 2.5 acres set aside for county services. Significant changes have been made.
A small but vocal opposition group wants you to believe that life as we know it in Tuolumne County will never be the same once Mountain Springs is (once again) approved. The reality is we need responsibly-planned, smart communities like Mountain Springs to address current and future county needs.
The facts are we currently have limited buildable lots, and the county faces serious budget cuts that impact roads and essential services like police and fire protection. Tuolumne County has abysmal job creation, reductions in school enrollments, many homes on wells and septic systems, almost no affordable housing, difficulty retaining graduating seniors and county service workers, a lack of basic infrastructure, and few new parks and trails available for residents.
Opponents claim "the services required far outweigh its contributions." False.
The Fiscal Benefits and Impact study, prepared by Environmental Research Associates and available to the public, shows that:
Mountain Springs will bring in $74 million dollars to the General Fund in new property taxes, one-time fees and transient occupancy taxes through the year 2023;
Mountain Springs will create 600 new jobs, and infuse millions of dollars in contracts and services to the local economy; and, county residential tax income from Mountain Springs will increase to $5.6 million per year by 2023 and increase in subsequent years continuing to fund road improvements and public services countywide.
Opponents want to paint a picture of oversized TUD lines and the public paying out of pocket for new infrastructure. False.
The water lines are sized for State of California standards for fire flow and safety. Mountain Springs will pay over $3 million for water supply, service and storage.
The current TUD rate increase and the voluntary reduction of water use have nothing to do with additional users. TUD is a small water company with increasing overhead costs due to inflation and ever increasing governmental regulation and unfunded mandates. Additional customers are needed to help offset the costs for existing rate payers.
Mountain Springs will be the most water-efficient community in Tuolumne County. A state of the art treatment facility will recycle water and reduce golf course irrigation needs by over 65 percent. The extensive TUD Water Supply Study shows there is sufficient water to support Mountain Springs. Mountain Springs is owned by over 100 local families. The 1996 Tuolumne County General Plan designated Mountain Springs as an area to address the current and future needs of the county.
Opponents argue Mountain Springs "would require 1,063 acres to be converted from agricultural zoning" and "it is in the middle of prime agricultural land." False.
California's latest reports show that in Tuolumne County there are 181,178 acres in Williamson Act agreements, all of which are rated by the state as Nonprime Ag land due to soil conditions. This Nonprime Agricultural land is not in the Agricultural Williamson Act. The total conversion of ag land for a range of housing (including affordable homes) is less than 428 acres, less than half of what opponents allege. Over 496 acres remain open space or for continued use of the existing golf course. The Mountain Springs property is "private land subject to development" as defined by Tuolumne County.
Concerns have been raised over deteriorating roads, traffic and stretched police and fire services. Mountain Springs is paying over $3 million in traffic mitigation fees required by the county and will spend tens of millions of dollars more in road improvements to Lime Kiln, Jacobs, Old Wards Ferry roads, and South Washington Street, and intersection improvements to 108/Lime Kiln, Lime Kiln/Campo Seco, Lime Kiln/Jacobs, and Old Ward Ferry/Tuolumne Road.
An additional $20 million in General Fund revenue and over $2.6 million in rural fire protection funding will help to go toward improving roads and services countywide.
Opponents say "good planning involves keeping sprawl in check by insisting that new development locate next to existing communities." The fact is Mountain Springs is adjacent to neighborhoods containing several hundred homes and will be closer to the medical, shopping and professional services of Sonora than the 17 existing communities in Tuolumne County.
Opponents/related groups have not built any affordable housing but say the 117 units of affordable housing provided by Mountain Springs are not needed because they are at the median income level as determined by the state. Let the county service employees, workers and residents who truly need this level of affordable housing be the judges, not people already living comfortably here in gated communities.
County officials and staff have done their due diligence on this proposed community not once but twice. They approved Mountain Springs in 2002, yet opponents stood in front of Wal-Mart and badgered people to sign petitions for the "right to vote."
Opponents do not want change of any kind. Ultimately that translates into no new jobs, no new county revenue, no road or public safety improvements, and no more new public open space and recreational areas for families to enjoy.
We've listened. Significant changes have been made to address every concern. Check the facts for yourself by reading the public Supplemental Environmental Impact Report. A copy has been posted at www.tuolumnecounty.ca.gov" www.tuolumnecounty.ca.gov. The Fiscal Benefit/Impact Analysis is available on www.mountainspringscommunity.com .
Ron Kopf, of Sonora, is operations manager for the Mountain Springs Community.