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.

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.

Expanding Elk Grove…

Expanding Elk Grove: Narrow vote allows city to start considering southern development of farmland, wildlife habitat

Environmentalists and farmers say commission vote opens door to sprawl

By Michael Mott

February 15, 2018

Sacramento News and Review

A regional body of elected officials and residents narrowly approved opening the door to development that farmers and environmentalists say could threaten wildlife habitats and conservation efforts south of Elk Grove.

On February 7, the Sacramento Local Area Formation Commission, or LAFCO, approved landowners’ bid to expand Elk Grove’s “sphere of influence” by 1,156 acres, which could lead to a formal annexation and development process. The commissioners’ 4-3 approval came with an environmental impact report that warned development could cause “significant and unavoidable impacts” to wildlife, habitats and groundwater.

Read the full article here.

Elk Grove expansion into habitat, farmland approved

There’s already plenty of land available for growth without causing more urban sprawl across the County of Sacramento and within the Urban Services Boundary around the City of Elk Grove in the south of the county. We need to focus on smart growth, infill development, public transit, water supply, air quality, and open space in order to support the quality of life for future residents.

There was a great team effort by groups like ECOS, Habitat 2020, Friends of Swainson’s Hawk, Save Our Sandhill Cranes, the Sierra Club and community members from all over the county who presented a strong case against Elk Grove’s latest sprawl push.

Unfortunately, on February 7, 2018, the Kammerer Road-Highway 99 Sphere Of Influence Amendment passed with a 4-3 vote by LAFCo (Local Area Formation Commission) members. This allows the City of Elk Grove to expand urban development beyond their currents limits.

In favor of the expansion: Patrick Hume, Sue Frost, Susan Peters, Ron Greenwood

Opposed to the expansion: Angelique Ashby, Gay Jones, Jack Harrison

Learn more about the City of Elk Grove’s Sphere of Influence here.

Controversial plan to expand Elk Grove’s urban boundary to be heard Wednesday

By Hudson Sangree

February 06, 2018 

The Sacramento Bee

…Elk Grove has ample room for growth within its current boundaries, including large undeveloped areas. (One expansive open area was offered unsuccessfully as a possible site for Amazon’s planned second headquarters.) They object to extending the city’s sphere of influence into farmland and wildlife habitat.

“Sacramento County has policies going back to 1993 saying, ‘We need to protect farmland. We need to have compact growth. We need to avoid urban sprawl. We don’t want to lose agriculture needlessly,” said Judith Lamare, president of Friends of the Swainson’s Hawk, a regional environmental group.

“You don’t want to cross the (urban services boundary) and build on farmland before you’ve exhausted opportunities to grow inside” existing city limits, she said.

Read the full article here.

Sacramento County doesn’t need more sprawl. Is Elk Grove listening?

By the Sacramento Bee Editorial Board 

February 06, 2018

The Sacramento Bee

Here we go again with another proposal that could pave the way for more urban sprawl near Elk Grove.

On Wednesday, Sacramento County’s Local Agency Formation Commission is to decide whether to add 1,165 acres south of Elk Grove to the city’s planning area. Once again, the commission should just say no.

Read the full article here.