I had a lesson in local civics last night. Foolish me, I thought our representatives were elected or appointed to represent the citizens. Instead, the Madera County Planning Commission voted to approve the development of a RV and camping park with 109 RV spaces and a 100 or so other types of spaces to serve as many as 800 people.
Commissioners did this in spite of 100+ people turning out and dozens of people speaking in opposition based on legitimate and reasonable fire, traffic, water and other concerns. And they did this despite the fact that only one speaker in favor of the project did not have a direct financial interest in seeing the proposal approved.
In approving a Conditional Use Permit and changes in zoning, the Planning Commission (abetted by faulty and incomplete staff reports) abrogated its responsibilities under the Madera County zoning ordinance (Section 18.92.030 for those interested), which clearly outlines that “deciding bodies” can approve a project ONLY IF it can make the following findings (in italics):
The proposal does not violate the spirit or intent of the zoning ordinance.
The developer is seeking changes to the General Plan and Oakhurst area plan from rural residential to commercial. There is only ONE commercially zoned parcel on Road 632/ Sierra Sky Ranch, a small hotel (16 guest rooms per its website) that has been a hotel since 1946. The rest of all parcels are zoned rural residential or agricultural. Clearly, there was an intent when the zoning was first put into place for the residential nature of the neighborhood. To say that rezoning to commercial is beyond ludicrous. This does not to begin to address the very real prospect of opening up more commercial development in this otherwise very residential neighborhood.
The proposal is not contrary to the health, safety and welfare of residents.
Approximately 200 people live up Road 632, which is for all intents and purposes a dead-end road. We live in a high fire danger zone, where private residents are paying upwards of $10,000 annually to insure their property. Clearly, the standard insurance industry believes this is a dangerous area where the question of continuing wild fire evacuations is a question of when, not if. While the improvements inside the gates does much for fire safety, those steps are overwhelmed by the lack of improvements that would support a rapid mandatory evacuation as has occurred three times over the last few years.
Thankfully, unlike Paradise, Redding, Petaluma, Santa Barbara, and Malibu, we had time to evacuate but there is no future promise of time. Evacuation of 109 RVs and a like number of campers on a busy summer weekend is a clear and present danger. Importantly, the biggest risk to residents coincides with the height of the fire season. It is an abrogation of responsibility to approve such a project without a clearly defined, publicly vetted plan. That has not occurred. In fact, on this point, county staff and the developer seemed confused. The county fire marshal said a plan could not be developed until in operation; the developer said it could not get permits without one. So which is it?
The proposal will not be hazardous, harmful, noxious, offensive, or a nuisance.
Each of these are taken separately. As noted above, the potential for disaster from fire a clear and present hazard as has been demonstrated locally and at Paradise, Redding, Petaluma and Malibu. Here is just one example: There are no plans to widen Road 642 between Highway 41 and the entrances to the site – despite the fact that the road does not meet minimum county standards! At places along the path, the width of the lanes are 8 feet; county code and state fire requirements are 10 feet per lane, not including shoulder and striping. When residents pointed this out, staff and commissioners ignored it, saying only that the road met requirements but refusing to make ANY accommodation on review of the facts.
Additionally, Road 632 is not what one could consider a thoroughfare; it dead ends from 2 miles of county-maintained, into non-county road, and ultimately into a warrant of dirt logging roads through the forest. It’s strains credibility to think that it could be used for any mass evacuation. Additionally, under CalFire regulation, no dead-end road that has parcels of less than ¼ acre can be longer than 700 feet. Existing homes have been here since well before the CalFire regulations were enacted (for good reason!), but that should be an immediate disqualifier for a development of this scope.
The proposal will not have a substantial effect on property values or on the general desirability of the neighborhood.
At full build-out, the RV and camping park will have a capacity of 800+ guests. There are currently 200 current residents along Road 632 and its roads. That is a 400% increase in people along a two-lane rural road. It is laughable to think that this is not an impact on the desirability of the neighborhood — or that the prospect of living next to or up-road from an RV park.
Even beyond fire considerations, the impact on property owners who are trying to get home at night, or get to work, to church or to the store without delay is considerable – especially turning left onto Highway 41, which already exceeds its capacity according to the very report written by staff. Certainly, there may be mitigations to some of these. In fact, the developer and staff would have you believe there are. However, reading through the report, there is little detail of mitigations and faulty work by county staff.
My hope is that the Madera County Board of Supervisors restore our faith that local leadership listens to citizens’ legitimate and reasonable concerns, and denies this project based on its very own ordinances.