General Plan public hearings

• 4 p.m. Dec. 19, Tuolumne County Planning Commission, fourth floor of the County Administration Center, at 2 S. Green St., Sonora.

• 4 p.m. Jan. 3, Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors, fourth floor of the County Administration Center, at 2. S. Green St., Sonora.

Final documents for the first comprehensive update to the Tuolumne County General Plan since 1996 are available online by going to www.tuolumnecounty.ca.gov and clicking on “Draft General Plan” on the main page.

Tuolumne County officials quietly dropped the final revised version of the proposed General Plan update on the county’s website Thursday, less than two weeks before the first of two public hearings on Dec. 19 to approve the hefty multi-volume document.

The update to the plan has been in the works since 2013, which has some people raising questions about the rush to get the document before the county Board of Supervisors for final approval at a public hearing on Jan. 3.

California law requires local jurisdictions to adopt and periodically update such plans that set the long-range rules on growth, land use and development. The county’s current General Plan was approved in 1996 and intended to cover a planning window through 2020.

County supervisors set a goal of having the plan approved by 2018 when they scrapped an older version completed in 2015 due to negative input.

Officials announced to people at a Tuolumne County Planning Commission on Wednesday night that the final proposed version, which incorporates input received on the draft version released in August, would available to the public on Thursday.

John Buckley, executive director of the Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center in Twain Harte, suggested that the commission should delay the hearing until sometime in January to give people more time to review the document.

All of the volumes released Thursday weigh in at four volumes totaling 1,163 pages, including the 186-page General Plan itself, 410-page technical background report, 233-page community identity element and community plans, and 334-page final environmental impact report.

“It’s not fair in the holiday season to expect that to get done in the holiday season, to expect that to get done in 10 or 11 days,” Buckley said. “People are overwhelmed and they won’t be able to give the quality (feedback) that you guys are asking for.”

Buckley added that the first public hearing before the planning commission would be six days before Christmas, while the final hearing before the board would be potentially two days after New Year’s Day.

The item on the commission’s agenda that Buckley was commenting was to consider proposed rules for how the public hearing on Dec. 19 would be conducted. The rules were approved by a 6-0 vote with Commissioner Charlotte Frazier absent.

Quincy Yaley, assistant director of the county Community Resources Agency, reminded the commission that they were only allowed to take action on the item that was printed on the agenda, so rescheduling the hearing was off the table.

Differences between the commission’s typical public hearings and the rules approved on Wednesday include that it will start at 4 p.m. as opposed to 6 p.m. . There will also be a “straight comment period,” as opposed to being divided between those who are in favor, opposed, and neutral.

There also won’t be any opportunities for rebuttal because of the uniform comment period.

Speakers will also be limited to three minutes each, though that would be extended if the commissioners ask them questions, which Buckley felt was not enough time given the length and importance of the document.

Outgoing County Administrator Craig Pedro has referred to the General Plan and annual budget as among the two most important things that the board has authority over.

Buckley recommended stretching the hearing over two days to give people more time to provide feedback, which was also suggested as a possibility by Commissioner Dick Pland, who was involved with crafting the current plan in 1996.

Supporters of District 2 Supervisor-elect Ryan Campbell, who defeated two-term incumbent Randy Hanvelt in the Nov. 6 election, have circulated emails raising awareness about the final hearing for the board to approve the plan being scheduled to happen four days before he’s seated on Jan. 7.

Campbell said during the campaign that he would like a chance to provide input on the plan as a supervisor before it’s passed if he got elected.

“From the constituents I’ve talked to, the General Plan is one of the reasons they wanted to see change on the board,” he said on Thursday. “This plan has been in the works for years, what harm is another couple of months going to do?”

Campbell also thought there wasn’t enough time given between the release of the final revised version, which he had yet to review on Thursday, and the first public hearing before the commission on Dec. 19.

District 4 Supervisor John Gray, who serves as board chairman this year, said on Thursday that the board is trying to meet its goal of approving the plan by 2018.

“This group of supervisors have lived that General Plan,” he said. “We’ve been working on it and, quite frankly, this board that’s seated right now is experienced in the process because we’ve been through it.”

Gray said the plan is a “fluid document” that can be altered over time, so the new supervisors will have a chance to suggest possible changes over the course of their term.

“You can keep extending it and extending it, but it’s time to fulfill a commitment we made in our supervisors’ goals and we’re trying our darndest to do it,” he said. “If there’s something in there that causes a problem, there’s no reason we can’t address it and make changes.”

The possibility of a lawsuit always looms over such a significant document and could potentially cause delays, Gray added.

District 3 Supervisor-elect Anaiah Kirk, who will replace outgoing two-term incumbent Evan Royce on Jan. 7, said the current board has talked about approving the plan by the end of the year for some time and is “simply following through with what they said they would do.”

Kirk said he wanted make revisions to the plan once he’s seated that would incorporate recommendations he made as part of the board’s 2019 state and federal legislative priorities on Tuesday regarding fire-safe communities and emergency planning.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.

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