Can Sacramento County save its farmers? Not if Elk Grove expands

By Judith Lamare and James P. Pachl

May 01, 2018

Special to The Sacramento Bee

On Feb. 7, four Sacramento LAFCo commissioners began unraveling of decades of agricultural protection, orderly urban growth and open space planning that relied on a firm urban limit at Elk Grove’s southern boundary.

The split decision by the Local Agency Formation Commission — three commissioners voted no — gave Elk Grove the go-ahead to plan development on 1,156 acres of farmland. Elk Grove’s presentation made clear that it intends to pave over much more than this in coming years.

Environmental groups have asked the commission to reconsider its decision on Wednesday, based on a state law that requires it to ensure orderly growth and preserve farmland and open space when it considers changes in city boundaries.

Vacant land within existing city limits is supposed to be a key factor in calculating whether a sphere of influence expansion onto farmland is needed to accommodate growth. In Elk Grove, there are about 4,000 acres of vacant land zoned and available for development, including 1,800 acres where residential projects remain unbuilt, some for more than a decade. The LAFCo executive director’s report misled the public and commissioners by counting as “vacant” only the land that did not have project approvals. Plenty of vacant land exists inside Elk Grove’s present boundaries for growth.

The commission adopted a statement prepared by staff to dismiss 22 significant and unavoidable impacts that cannot be fully mitigated, including loss of farmland and open space and further groundwater depletion. Also, the sphere of influence amendment conflicts with the Metropolitan Transportation Plan that underpins all federal and state funding. Notably not discussed by the commission was the additional cost to the public to acquire right of way for the planned Capital Southeast Connector bordering the expansion area due to land speculation it causes.

At the core of this decision is the future of farming and Sacramento County’s agricultural economy. One commissioner implied that the decision would not harm farming because so little of the land is defined as “prime.” Yet the environmental report identified significant impacts on agriculture that cannot be mitigated.

If we are only prepared to save “prime” farmland, then California’s agricultural fabric will become more tattered and unsustainable. That fabric includes different kinds of farmland and an infrastructure supporting an industry that produced more than $500 million in revenue last year in Sacramento County.

If the commission doesn’t reverse its decision, we are facing a dramatic loss of farmers in our region.

Click here to view the article on the SacBee website.

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Environmental Groups Claims LAFCO Executive Director Misled, Gave False Information in Elk Grove Expansion Approval

April 1, 2018

Elk Grove News.Net

In a rebuke of the February 7, 2018 decision to initiate a developer-driven expansion of Elk Grove, a rehearing of those plans will be held at the Sacramento Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) will be held on Wednesday, April 7. That hearing will be held at the requests from environmentalist groups who claim that among numerous other infractions, Sacramento LAFCO executive director Donald J. Lockhart misled and withheld information from the body’s commissioners.

In a 10-page letter (posted below) dated March 9, 2018 from the petitioner attorney Donald Mooney, the eight areas are cited where the decision by the seven-person commission was made without a complete presentation of facts. The petitioners seeking the new hearing include the Sierra Club, the Environmental Council of Sacramento, Habitat 2020, and Friends of Swainson’s Hawk.

In that February meeting, the Sacramento LAFCO commissioners voted 4-3 in favor of an application by home builders who were seeking to place about 1,200-acres in the city of Elk Grove’s sphere of influence. Putting the land into Elk Grove’s sphere of influence paves the way for the city to annex the property into city limits, thereby allowing the developers a quicker path to new housing developments.

Read the article here.

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Reconsideration of LAFCo Decision on Elk Grove expansion

UPDATE: On April 4, 2018, LAFCo cancelled this hearing for reconsideration due to protests of the killing of Stephon Clark in the downtown area. The item will likely be back on their agenda on May 2, 2018.  

Thank you to everyone who has communicated with LAFCo about the importance of this decision and the need to rethink the 4-3 vote.  
 
Thank you also to those who have sent donations to help pay the cost of our attorney.

ECOS and Sierra Club have asked and been granted a hearing on whether there should be reconsideration of the Feb 7, 2018 LAFCo decision to approve adding 1,156 acres of farmland to the Sphere of Influence for Elk Grove (first step in urbanization). The hearing will be April 4, 2018, 5:30 pm at 700 H Street. As we get closer, we will ask you to write again to LAFCo to oppose this conversion of farmland.

We have asked for reconsideration based on:
1. Lack of evidence to support a Statement adopted by the Commissioners to “override” the 22 significant and unavoidable impacts of the decision.
2. Misleading statements at the hearing on water availability, farmland mitigation, benefits of the decision to the JPA Connector, and the extent to which impacts can be mitigated .

This was a very close decision with Councilmember Angelique Ashby of City of Sacramento, Metro Fire Board member Gay Jones, and Public LAFCo Member Jack Harrison voting against the SOI, and Supervisors Sue Peters and Sue Frost, CM Pat Hume of Elk Grove and Carmichael Water District Board Member Ron Greenwood voting to approve. We hope to reverse this decision.

We would like the commissioners to receive comments with time to read them before the hearing at 5:30pm on Wednesday, April 4, 2018.

Click here to view the hearing agenda.

Click here for links to the most recent relevant documents, on the Friend’s of Swainson’s Hawk website.

Click here to learn more about the background of this issue.

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