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Thursday, September 6, 2007

Developer Scheming North of Lake Tahoe...
News from the High Sierra Rural Alliance

June 12, 2007


Much has happened since the last update.

The City of Loyalton held a workshop presenting the Citizen’s Advisory Committee’s three alternative plans for annexation. Sub-committee members of the No Annexation and Small Annexation groups were on hand to answer questions and present the results of their investigations. Committee members presenting the Large Annexation alternative provided a visual presentation, but were not at the meeting to describe their project or answer questions about it.

The meeting was well attended. The Small Annexation Proposal was by far the most popular proposal. Based on the feedback from the meeting the Citizen’s Planning Advisory Committee has finalized a version of a General Plan and Annexation Proposal to present to the Loyalton City Council. The proposal will annex the trailer park and Senior Center to the southwest of the City; part of the SPI mill site on the south of the City; the Sheriff’s sub-station on the west; and the field north of the City owned by the School District. All owners of affected property were contacted by the sub-committee and indicated their agreement to be annexed.

The plan could result in a doubling of the Loyalton population, but will not change any land uses already anticipated by the Sierra County General Plan. The plan will provide Loyalton with more tax revenue, but not significantly increase the service burden on the City because the City currently provides services to the trailer park and Senior Center. Development of SPI lands will necessarily require a separate agreement between SPI and the City. The plan does not change land uses already anticipated by the County General Plan, therefore, changes in neighborhood character and costs of environmental review will be minimal. All in all, we think the recommended plan is a wise assessment of opportunities and constraints facing the City of Loyalton and will serve the community well.

The plan will be presented to the City Council June 19, 2007. Please plan to attend. The Large Annexation sub-committee led by John Gullixson has disengaged from the process and is expected to pressure the City Council to adopt their proposal. The City Council needs your support to approve the people’s choice and not be bullied by Southern California lawyers.

The Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) also met in preparation for dealing with John Gullixson’s application to increase the City of Loyalton’s sphere of influence from Lombardi Point to the County line. This is the first step in an attempt to include his property (the old Silver Ranch) and more within the City’s boundaries. It circumvents the deliberative process the City has engaged in through its Citizen’s Planning Advisory Committee. Mr. Gullixson vision for the Loyalton area appears to be an enormous development scheme that would increase the size of Loyalton from about 160 acres to over 2000 acres. An analysis of population increase or cost to the City was not addressed. One thing is for certain, though, the cost of the environmental review for the plan will be huge.

In more news about Loyalton, Mr. Gullixson still seems to be at the center. Mr. Gullixson and the Sierra Valley Development Company have sued the County and the Goichoechea family for entering into a Farmland Security Zone contract. In our opinion the suit is without legal merit. It constitutes a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation and intends to deprive the Goichoechea’s of their right to enter into a Farmland Security Zone Contract with Sierra County by imposing a procedural and economic burden upon them. By showing a united front at the City Council meeting June 19, 2007, we can help support the Goichoechea’s and the County against these bullying tactics.

Plumas County

The Plumas County Planning Department is experiencing a re-organization due to the sudden resignation of newly appointed Planning Director Jonathan Schnall. We continue to monitor the course of the General Plan Update and General Plan amendments.

We have heard the owners of the Sugar Loaf Ranch (old Bonta Ranch) are considering subdividing the ranch to create 57 three acre parcels. A year ago the County sent out an initial study asking for agency recommendations for information to be included in an Environmental Impact Report to amend the general plan designation and zoning of 240 acres of the ranch from Agricultural Preserve to Moderate Opportunity- Agricultural Buffer and Zone R-10. We strongly oppose conversion of agricultural lands to residential uses in Sierra Valley.

We will continue to represent the public’s interest in protecting agricultural interests in the Valley no matter what jurisdiction governs.Emails from Rose Comstock have been forwarded to us requesting the High Sierra Rural Alliance not interfere with Plumas County land use issues. The Sierra Valley is a regional resource which citizens of Plumas and Sierra counties wish to protect.

Sierra County

The Sierra County board has voted to curtail the function of the Sierra County Fish and Game Commission. In the past the Planning Department has elicited comments from the Commission concerning the impacts proposed land use projects may have on Fish and Game. Complaints from a special interest have succeeded in changing the policy to limit comments by the Commission “unless expressly requested or directed by the Board of Supervisors”. We consider this policy a loss to the County and wonder why the Board doesn’t wish to consider the volunteered expertise of its appointed commissioners. However, the originally proposed ordinance prohibited Commissioners as individuals from commenting on County land use projects. Thanks to the vigilance of the High Sierra Rural Alliance, and County citizens, Fish and Game Commissioners won’t be deprived of their right to free speech.

The Planning Commission is considering modifying the Timberland Production Zone (TPZ) ordinance to allow residences of indeterminate size to be built on TPZ lands. The California legislature enacted the Timberland Production Act (TPA) because it realized as the urban fringe approaches, timberland becomes valuable for residential development and timberland owners are compelled by economic factors to convert timberlands to residential uses. The cycle increases pressure for timberland conversion resulting in the loss of natural resource production lands and inefficient land use patterns at a cost borne by the public.

The TPA relies on tax incentives coupled with zoning mandates to harmonize landowner and public interests. The public contracts with landowners to limit the way their land may be used in exchange for a monetary benefit. The TPA restricts land in a timberland production zone (TPZ) to the growing and harvesting of timber and compatible uses. In exchange, the owner of TPZ land benefits by a lower property tax. “A residence or other structure necessary for the management of land zoned as timberland production” is considered a compatible use. Allowing construction of a residence beyond what is necessary for the management of timberland will defeat the purpose of the legislation by encouraging large forest estates that receive unwarranted tax incentives.

Though the property tax the county collects on TPZ parcels with a residence is limited by statute, the sale price of the parcel is unlimited. Allowing unlimited residential uses on TPZ parcels will allow developers and speculators to recoup windfall profits subsidized by county taxpayers. Adding insult to injury county tax payers will have to extend police and fire protection, health and building, planning, and road services at great cost without like compensation. Wildfire danger will increase. Wildland values including water quality will decrease. Resource production capability will deteriorate.

In enacting TPA the legislature intended to curtail conversion of resource production lands. The proposed policy will stimulate conversion at the expense of the taxpayer. Let the Planning Commission know that your generosity is intended to protect timberlands as timber resources not to subsidize forest estates.

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