In the News - Friday, August 31, 2012
ONLY IN THE AUGUST 31 PRINT EDITION:
VISITOR GUIDE - SUMMER / FALL 2012
BOS approves General Plan Update
After a decade of deliberations, dozens of public meetings, writes and rewrites, and some $4.5 million later, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously 5-0 Tuesday evening (August 28) to approve the Tulare County General Plan Update 2030. The so-called “programmatic” Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR), the proposed Climate Action Plan, and the General Plan Update contains thousands of pages — volumes of information outlining policies, goals, and procedures to theoretically guide land-use planning in Tulare County for the next two decades and beyond.
Dave Bryant, a special projects manager for the county’s Resource Management Agency (RMA) who supervised the plan’s production process, told the board in his presentation that the plan addresses all the requirements of the law and is a framework for how the county might proceed in the growth and development that is inevitable in the next two decades.
Bryant cited the current population of Tulare County (429,010) and stated that by the year 2030 that number is expected to grow to 742,970. He said the plan describes what growth is appropriate and where that growth might occur.
Among the changes in the new plan, Bryant said, was the designation of some rural areas as hamlets, city urban development boundaries, procedures for the creation of new towns, preservation of agricultural lands, and consolidation of land-use designations. It also encourages urban-centered development and smart growth with implementation measures.
But critics of the plan who lined up during two public hearing sessions on Tuesday said repeatedly that the plan is too vague and lacks any specific mitigation measures where and when development might occur. At least 44 persons spoke during the three hours of public testimony of which four spoke in favor while 40 spoke against.
“We were really disappointed to see that county planners never took to heart all the diligence and hundreds of hours that our members and the citizens of this county spent to promote a healthy future for this county,” said Laurie Schwaller, who spoke on behalf of the Tulare County Citizens for Responsible Growth. “Where the rubber meets the road, the plan fails to provide any rules or limits.”
The key to any growth is water, Bryant said, so he called upon a planner from Tully &Young to outline the findings of the water supply evaluation contained in the EIR part of plan. The consultant explained that 2003 statistics were used to project the current supply relative to four scenarios of future use.
Of course, there are numerous variables, the consultant reported, but depending on where development occurs and how much acreage is taken out of irrigation, there could in certain wet years be more water available for domestic use in the future than is currently being used today.
Critics viewed those statistics as more unsubstantiated data to justify developments like the new town that has been proposed for Yokohl Valley by the Boswell Company.
“No one who provided input for the plan is endorsing new towns, yet there is a new towns section in the plan,” said Greg Schwaller of Three Rivers, who also spoke during the public hearing. “Why is it even in the plan when new development should be in existing development boundaries so as not to threaten ag lands or the county’s open space?”
Jared Pugh of Springville criticized the plan because it does not address the county’s real potential to develop the aggregate resources that would be critical if and when development occurs. He said the aggregate resources are potentially worth more than the dairy industry but the plan is “just business as usual” and there is no adequate planning for the future.
Bob Keenan of Visalia, president of the Homebuilders Association of Tulare and Kings Counties, was critical of the plan because it contained provisions for the county to charge developer impact fees.
“Those fees are illegal and are a special tax that would drive developers to build outside the county in areas around Tulare County,” Keenan said.
Gary Adest of Springville, a cattle rancher and business owner, called the plan internally inconsistent with the Foothills Growth and Management Plan. It describes Springville as a town that is virtually unchanged since 1988 though residents know that is simply not the case, he said.
“As a former college professor, I would give the plan a D,” Adest said.
Joan Stewart of Springville, speaking on behalf of the California Native Plant Society, said that the plan doesn’t say how to protect the more than 150 plant species found in Tulare County.
“A goal of the plan is to preserve and protect the resources of Tulare County, yet the plan doesn’t say what it will preserve and protect, and that’s pathetic,” she said.
Bill Maze, a Visalia resident and businessman, who also served as a county supervisor and in the State Assembly, urged the board to get past the rhetoric and keep county businesses on track. Patricia Steever Blattler, Tulare County Farm Bureau executive director, reminded the board that planning should be driven by the needs of the agricultural industry.
Several others commented on air quality and how the plan is being approved with overriding considerations even though the Valley’s air is among the worst in the nation.
In all these volumes there are only 28 pages dealing with air quality, said Gary Gray, a Visalia resident.
In the end, the Board of Supervisors commended county staff and their consultants for all their hard work.
“I thought the hearing on Tuesday was a teaching moment in participatory democracy,” observed Greg Schwaller. “It was galling to me to hear them pointedly acknowledge the efforts of well-paid staff, consultants, and themselves for, after all, doing their job, while continuing to not even acknowledge the countless thousands of hours and the efforts of the unpaid, committed citizen volunteers — their constituents.”
BLM management plan in ‘protest period’
For the recreational users of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands around Three Rivers, now is the time to review the latest documents that will guide the management of these areas for the coming decades. The Bakersfield Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is currently revising two existing Resource Management Plans (RMPs) — the 1997 Caliente RMP and portions of the 1984 Hollister RMP — to address the availability of new data and updated policies, emerging issues, and changing circumstances that have occurred during the 14-plus years since the Record of Decisions (RODs) for these plans were signed.
The planning area, located in Central California, comprises approximately 17 million acres of land. This includes recommendations for the so-called Kaweah River and Case Mountain BLM lands — the latter of which the plan describes as used for “extensive recreation.”
Kaweah River recreation— The changing circumstances that dictated a new management strategy for BLM properties on the North Fork of the Kaweah River became necessary after the popular river-access recreational areas — Advance, Cherry Falls, and Paradise — were closed in May 2007. BLM managers at that time said the temporary closures were necessary until they could come up with effective strategies for parking, fee collection, and to deal with illegal fires, partying, and gang activity that went on throughout the summer season.
Now it appears due to lack of funding these closures may become permanent. At a scoping meeting held last summer in Three Rivers, BLM managers told attendees that designation of the North Fork as a Wild and Scenic River could potentially provide a funding source to reopen areas on the North Fork and also manage properties on the Middle Fork and East Fork.
While the current study acknowledges that portions of these waterways have been determined eligible for Wild and Scenic designation by an NPS study (2006), the current BLM findings include only a .12 mile stretch of the Middle Fork as suitable for the Wild and Scenic designation. Values for each area like visual, wildlife, botanical, cultural, and ecological were clearly identified; nearby grazing activities and proximity to roads were cited as non-contributing factors.
For at least the immediate future, the Kaweah River areas owned by the BLM are proposed to continue status quo with little or no management or enforcement presence. Trespassers at the North Fork sites may be subject to imprisonment or fines up to $1,000 or both, the report states.
Case Mountain— The Case Mountain area is described as an ERMA, an area used for extensive recreation. The findings of Appendix H describe that because of the remoteness and naturalness — the site contains a portion of the Case Mountain Grove of giant sequoias — there is a clear mandate to manage the site. But with the lack of facilities at the site and limited funding, it is unclear as to what, if anything, the BLM will do to make improvements or provide law enforcement.
A local group of mountain bikers have worked with the BLM on educating the public on the uses and abuses that occur at the Case Mountain property, and there are plans for access improvements from the Salt Creek area. The plan does not contain any specifics as to when or how any improvements might be made for the Case Mountain area.
The Bakersfield Proposed Resource Management Plan (RMP) and Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is now available for download. The protest period officially begins with the publication of the Notice of Availability in the Federal Register today (Friday, Aug. 31) and will end September 30, 2012.
For more information or to review a complete set of the planning documents go online to http://www.blm.gov/ca/st/en/fo/bakersfield/Programs/planning/caliente_rmp_revision.html.
Road report: The stone monument at the beginning of the Mineral King Road provides a brief history of the meandering route that leads to a remote section of Sequoia National Park. It reads:
“Mineral King Wagon and Toll Road—In 1879 a toll road company was formed and in five months, at a cost of $30,000, a crew of 125 men directed by Thomas C. Mayon and John W. Crowley, completed 25 miles of road from toll gate to Mineral King. Empire Mine owner Tom Fowler, who lost his fortune trying to produce silver, was first to drive the entire route.”
Census data show 3R trends
By Holly Gallo
According to data acquired from the 2000 and 2010 censuses, the demographics of the Three Rivers population have significantly changed despite the total population remaining relatively stable.
One upward trend is the increasing diversity found in the town. The number of residents identifying as white alone or in combination with another ethnicity has remained stable. The three largest growing ethnic groups are those identifying as African American, Asian, and Mexican, which have grown by 40%, 60%, and 85% respectively.
While the diversification of the town’s demographics is hopeful, there are many negative changes to the population as well.
One effect of the shifting demographics is already having effect. Three Rivers Union School has been experiencing dropping enrollment rates and smaller kindergarten classes over the last few years.
A result of the exodus to neighboring areas associated with rising gas prices and an average 35-minute commute to work for Three Rivers residents is that fewer parents of children under the age of 18 live here compared to 10 years ago.
The number of households with children under the age of 18 has dropped 20.5% since 2000, and the number of minors currently living in town has dropped 34%.
As recently reported in The Kaweah Commonwealth, the reduction of school-age children is a financial burden for Three Rivers School. Because a significant portion of the school’s funding is determined by the attendance at the school, TRUS faces dire times indeed if this trend continues on its current trajectory.
If the school were to close its doors due to poor attendance, it is not solely students and parents of students who will bear the burden. Property owners may also feel the negative effects as residential parcels within a school district’s catchment tend to have a higher value than those outside of the parameter.
Property owners are already familiar with the difficult economic environment in which they find themselves. While the total number of housing units has risen by 15%, there is a 61% increase in the number of vacant houses.
The median house value in Three Rivers is currently only three-quarters of that of the rest of the state. Needless to say, the loss of the school would hurt those who have invested in Three Rivers property.
Furthermore, the number of housing units used for seasonal, recreational, or occasional use has more than doubled over the decade. If the Three Rivers economy continues to function almost entirely on a seasonal basis, with a sizable fraction of available occupations being low-paying recreational and service-based jobs, residents will find it to be continually difficult to afford the price of living here.
In addition to the friction between affordable houses and well-paying jobs, residents also face high prices while shopping local. Sarah Elliott suggested in her August 19 editorial of last year that there be an issuance of a “resident card” for Three Rivers locals that would allow them to avoid paying tourist prices when shopping for provisions.
Touristic profit is not the only cause of high prices in Three Rivers. Besides goods being geared toward traveling patrons, the high cost of gas and the cul-de-sac location of Three Rivers make it increasingly more expensive to have goods delivered here at all.
As is typical with resort towns, the number of people aged 55 to 64 years has increased 50%. The biggest shift is seen in the age group of 60-64 years, which has increased by 64%.
As the population ages and more residents retire, the circle doubles upon itself. Fewer households have school-aged children, fewer residents are of an age to be a part of the work force, and housing prices will continue to inflate, boom, and eventually expire.
Homecoming saved for Woodlake High students
By Holly Gallo
Woodlake Union School District is teaming up with the Tulare County Gang Prevention Task Force’s Step Up program this fall to host a community-wide Homecoming celebration on Friday, Sept. 28.
Woodlake’s traditional Homecoming event was canceled this year due to the ongoing construction on the football field and stadium. With no home games this football season and their traditional venue in a state of upheaval due to the renovations, there at first appeared to be no viable options for hosting Homecoming.
“I was approached by city administrator Ramon Lara, who knew we weren’t having Homecoming,” said Lisa Castillo, Woodlake High School principal. “He said we should work with Step Up and see if they could help us.”
Castillo said that she has worked with the Tulare County Gang Prevention Task Force in the past when she was working in the Cutler-Orosi area and is familiar with the organization.
Because Step Up will help fund the event in partnership with community members, local businesses, and non-profits, working with the Task Force will be a “win-win” situation, according to Castillo.
Woodlake’s unconventional Homecoming event this year will be a part of Step Up’s Summer Night Lights program, which “aims to curb violence and other negative activity,” according to their website at stepuptc.co.tulare.ca.us.
The celebration will be held at Miller Brown Park and is open to the public. It will feature a resource fair of local services, free food, games, bounce houses, waterslides, and other fun activities in addition to a Homecoming night for high school students and a mini parade featuring the traditional floats down Magnolia Ave. and Antelope St.
All the stakeholders had their first meeting on Friday, Aug. 24, and will continue to meet every Friday until the event. Today’s meeting (Friday, Aug. 31) will take place at 9 a.m. at Woodlake City Hall.