By Barbara Farkas

There seems to be a maniacal attempt to discredit Tuolumne County Citizens for Responsible Growth, Inc., by the project manager of the Stone Mill Center and his Tuolumne County Business Council, regarding the project on Parrotts Ferry Road.

Our local internet news media is supported by business interests and ran a divisive poll regarding “responsibility.” As the president of the nonprofit TCCFRG, I must clarify the sequence of events.

Citizens for Responsible Growth’s filing in the court for a Petition of Mandate, resulted from noncompliance by the owner, Gary Simning and his investors, in completing an EIR, (Environmental Impact Review), on the entire 18 acre project as required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

Citizens for Responsible Growth is not objecting to the Stone Mill Center per se. The citizens of the Columbia area submitted 300 signatures on petitions in addition to many countywide letters and comments opposing the Stone Mill Center due to the issues of traffic safety, airport safety, and specifically, the lack of an EIR, or a comprehensive development plan at the entrance to our historic Columbia State Park.

Piecemeal Planning is not allowed by CEQA law, due to “potential irreversible damages in the future”: plain and simple.

A request for responsible development is why both TCCFRG and Citizens Against the Over Development of Columbia, have requested a complete EIR since 2013. Unfortunately, Gary Simning, Ron Kopf, and numerous members of the Tuolumne County Business Council, have chosen to defame instead of communicating.

This was done by personally attacking individuals and CFRG, through various county committees, community agencies and the media. Their attempt to persuade the community by promoting ill will, has only damaged the possibility of negotiation or agreement through positive input from CFRG and the Citizens group from the Columbia community.

It also places a veil of distrust over those who espouse community with this statement: “The goal of the Tuolumne County Business Council is to assemble, organize, and coordinate the talents and resources of the business sector in the identification, examination, and successful resolution of area issues.”

The community placed its trust in CFRG when our board was asked to represent them for a five-acre development on Union Hill in 2013. This development was also ruled as piecemeal planning.

Currently, CFRG’s appeal of the Planning Commission’s approval of the development permit, was a notice that the community wanted a seat at the table, as also required by CEQA law in an EIR.

The Business Council quotes Henry Ford as saying, “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”

By inviting input prior to submission of the Stone Mill Center project for approval, Gary Simning and Ron Kopf might have resolved community concerns as per Henry Ford, through a problem-solving process.

This collaboration might have also avoided a lawsuit, with its resulting delays and expenses, which Mr. Kopf and Business Council members, incorrectly attribute to your community Involvement and our commitment to support “responsible” planning.

Barbara Farkas is president of Tuolumne County Citizens for Responsible Growth.

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