Why planning directors don’t last in Calaveras County

There must be a reason that six different people have held the top land use planning job in Calaveras County over the last seven years. I suspect it is because those officials get inconsistent, if not impossibly contradictory direction from the county’s elected leaders. One of the greatest examples is the long-overdue effort to update the General Plan. That effort has been underway since 2007.  Pretty much everyone on the Board of Supervisors in that time  has said they want the thing done promptly, since the lack of a legally-defensible and adequate General Plan makes it hard to approve much-desired development projects. But county officials over the years have opposed many of the specific steps and policies that could get the work done, such as  creating a habitat conservation plan that could make a General Plan much more workable, efficient, and easy to use for developers. Similarly, they send inconsistent signals on whether they intend to pay for the needed work to get the General Plan done. It happened again this week, when Planning Director Rebecca Willis made what would have appeared to be a fairly routine request to transfer a little more than $10,000 from one General Plan-related contract to another. Planners had been frugal and didn’t spend all of the money on the previous contract. And when they signed a new contract, they anticipated having those dollars available. Going to the Board of Supervisors was required because the old contract had expired. But before the board could vote, several people in the audience at Tuesday’s meeting got up and suggested that transferring the money would support a United Nations effort to subvert local governments. Supervisor Darren Spellman’s motion to transfer the money died for lack of a second. That leaves Willis with work to do and a contract to pay and not enough dollars to pay it. I wondered at the time at her cheerful facade given the board’s obvious lack of support. To be fair, the board did make a difficult vote unanimously in her favor later in the day when it supported her recommendation to deny without prejudice the proposed 580-unit Sawmill Lake residential development in Copperopolis.

There has been substantial turnover on the Board of Supervisors over the last seven years. Except for Merita Callaway, not one person is left from the board that was here when the General Plan update process started. But the signs are that the paralysis will continue: The same people who say they want to make Calaveras County an easy place to do business somehow balk at taking all the steps needed to achieve that goal.

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