Measure 2022: greenfield developer sponsors

A group calling themselves A Committee for a Better Sacramento is sponsoring a citizen-initiated ballot measure for the November election, titled “Sacramento County Transportation Maintenance, Safety, and Congestion Relief Act of 2022—Retail Transactions and Use Tax”. (Note: Some people are referring to this as Measure A, but measure letters are assigned by county elections, not by the sponsors. I’ll continue to refer to it as Measure 2022, for now.)

The sponsor of the measure is Cordova Hills Development Corporation. So far as can be determined, the entity does not have a website, though there are references to the development on the website of some of the contractors who have been hired to plan the development. There is apparently an interlocking series of shell companies related to Cordova Hills, but none have websites.

So, what is Cordova Hills? It is a greenfield development proposed for former farm and ranch lands south of Rancho Cordova. Greenfield development is not needed in the Sacramento region; there is plenty of land available for infill development that can serve all the same needs as Cordova Hills. So, why does this company, and many others like it, want greenfield development? Because they can purchase land at agricultural prices, develop it, and then sell it at urban prices, with a huge profit potential. I am not against development, but it is important to remember that there are two types of development and developers: infill and greenfield. Infill is socially and environmentally sound, greenfield is not. Infill builds wealth in the community, greenfield destroys wealth because the development never ends up generating enough tax income for the infrastructure and particularly infrastructure maintenance it incurs.

What Cordova Hills is asking is that the taxpayers of Sacramento County subsidize their development by providing transportation infrastructure. There is less and less support for sprawl greenfield development in the county, so the sponsors are wrapping the subsidy in a measure with other benefits. The developers do not have a good record with the public. During the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors hearing which approved the project, the developer lied about several aspects of the development, and intimidated the supervisors with implied threats to run candidates against them. It was only a last minute agreement between SACOG and the supervisors with language that that the development would not break the MTP/SCS that allowed the development to pass.

The biggest benefit claimed by the developers was a university that was to be part of the project. The proposed university withdrew, and it has never to date been replaced with another, but since the development was approved with a university implied but not required, the developer intends to move forward without.

More about Cordova Hills:

Of course this greenfield development is tied at the hip to the Southeast Connector. More about that in coming posts.

Search for category Measure 2022 to see posts as they are added.

Cordova Hills decision today

The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors will likely make a decision on Cordova Hills today. The hearing is scheduled for 2:00 at 700 H St. Recent news items on Cordova Hills include:

Cordova Hills on Tuesday

The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors will consider the Cordova Hills sprawl development again on this coming Tuesday, January 29. The issue is agenda item #44, which will not be considered before 2:00PM, but may be considered later if the meeting is behind schedule. I don’t know whether this will again be a marathon meeting going on for hours, but if you wish to comment or observe, it is better to be there on time.

On the request of Phil Serna, SACOG considered the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) implications of the development, with and without a university. You can read the full letter SACOG_MikeMcKeever-on-CordovaHills (1.6MB), but the summary statement on page one is enough:

Cordova Hills will face challenges being included in the next MTP/SCS (to be adopted spring, 2016) largely based on market feasibility considerations, with or without a University. Those challenges are greatest if it is not clear when the University is likely to be built.

On a per capita basis (the relevant performance metric for SB375) Cordova Hills will create higher transportation greenhouse gas emissions relative to other development opportunities in the region, with or without a University. Per capita emissions will be significantly greater without a University than with a University.

An updated Air Quality Mitigation Plan has been provided, with approval from the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District, which reflects their midnight conversion to accept the project. The primary added mitigation is the reduction of natural gas combustion through the use of tankless water heaters. As I’ve said before, if it was so easy to achieve these reductions, why were they not included in the project to begin with? [If you want to look at this and other documents (there are now about 72), go to the agenda page and download them. Some are huge.]

There have been several letters and comments in the Sacramento area media since the last hearing, urging that the development be approved because we can trust that the developer will obtain a university. There is no evidence for this, but I guess if you have enough friends in high places, you can make such claims.

I remain absolutely opposed to this project. If we can stop this one, there is hope that there won’t be any more of these sprawl-inducing, urban-services-boundary-busting proposals, but if this one goes through, the floodgates are open and quality of life in Sacramento County for all of us is down the tubes.

No decision on Cordova Hills

Vernal Pools, from ECOS
Vernal Pools, from ECOS

I attended the six hour long (!) hearing on Wednesday. Supervisors Don Nottoli and Phil Serna asked a series of probing questions, many of which had to do with what effect the lack of a university would have on the project benefits and impacts. The private university that had been part of the project withdrew, no replacement has been found, and many people including myself doubt that a replacement will be found. What university would want to be located on the far edge of the Sacramento region, in a place not accessible by public transportation from the rest of the region? Every other institution of higher learning in the region is accessible by public transportation, and SacRT is currently spending millions to extend light rail to Cosumnes River College. Free land is not a sufficient enticement.

Planning staff could not really answer questions about the lack of a university because they had decided that they would only analyze the “with university” scenario in the environmental impact statements and other documents. Supervisor Serna clearly felt that this was a mistake, as did most of the people in the room. Without any hard information, planning staff could make only vague guesses, and seemed lost at sea.

Specifically, the lack of a university would change the jobs/housing balance and would increase vehicle miles traveled (VMT) for the development, leaving it further from meeting SB375 greenhouse gas reduction goals. Somehow, the developer and planning staff were able to get a midnight agreement from the Air Quality Management District (AQMD) that additional mitigations would meet the goals, but there was doubt expressed by many about this. Since SB375 requires that developments “adopt all feasible measures to mitigate those impacts”, it left me scratching my head as to how planning staff and developer were suddenly able to come up with more mitigations that they hadn’t initially included.

Since the development is outside the Urban Services Area, which under the Sacramento County General Plan defines the area which is expected to be developed in the next 25 years, the planning staff and developer kept touting that the development met the criteria established by LU-120, so that it should be accepted even though it was outside the area. The LU-120 is a series of criteria which judge the quality and sustainability of the project. The document is here, but be prepared to spend some real time working to understand it. I spent much of the six hours looking at and trying to understand it, and I’m not completely there yet. Planning staff presented a slide which contains the same information in a different format, and I was not able to find that slide on the website. The slide crammed text onto the slide so that no one could read it.

When challenged by supervisors to explain why the project had received the scores on several of the criteria, planning staff was very vague in their answers, basically saying “well, that’s what we decided.” When asked how the lack of a university would affect those scores, they really had no idea, because, again, they had chosen not to look at this scenario. I suspect that the LU-120 scores will end up being the major flaw in the planning process, and will leave any approval of the development open to legal challenge.

The hearing was closed with no decision. The development will be taken up again by the Board of Supervisors on January 29 at 2:00PM, at which time planning staff promised that they would have answers to some of the supervisor’s questions, and a response from SACOG on the implications of this development which was not included in the MTP (Metropolitan Transportation Plan for 2035 / Sustainable Communities Strategy “The Blueprint for Sustainability”).

The Environmental Council of Sacramento (ECOS) and members spoke eloquently and in great detail about why the project should be disapproved. Two ECOS references of great interest:

I will have more to say about Cordova Hills, as I have the time. The developer’s lawyer said that this development was a “poster child” for quality, sustainable development. Well, it certainly is a poster child, but it is a poster child for sprawl. I think that this particular development has much more impact than one would expect, as approval would open the floodgates for sprawl developers wanting to go outside the Urban Services Area, to latch on the to Southeast Connector for access, and to try to sell their development with promises of a university.

No to Cordova Hills

“Previous sprawl has sent Fresno to the edge of bankruptcy.” – Keith Bergthold , City of Fresno Planning and Development, at the Partnering with K-12 Education in Building Healthy, Sustainable & Competitive Regions, 2012-12-06

The Cordova Hills development is on the agenda for the Sacramento Board of Supervisors on this Wednesday, December 12. The meeting starts at 2:30 pm in the county board chambers at 700 H St in Sacramento.

I hope that a many people will attend and protest this development. This is sprawl of the worst kind. Not only is it beyond all developed areas, it is even beyond the county’s generous growth boundary. With no significant employment opportunities within or near the development, people would be commuting long distances to work in Sacramento, Elk Grove, Rancho Cordova, Folsom, and Roseville. More vehicle miles, more air pollution, more climate change, more taxes required to maintain infrastructure. Less community cohesiveness, less time, less open space.

Continue reading “No to Cordova Hills”