Tempers flare over growth debate | TheUnion.com

Tempers flare over growth debate

A comment made by the lawyer who helped write the proposed Managed Growth Initiative upset Grass Valley City Council members, who voted later Tuesday night to have staff study the measure for another 30 days.

Council members also voted 5-0 to accept the proponents’ verified signatures, a step toward putting the measure on the Nov. 3 ballot.

But the discussion that preceded the vote upset council members.

“I’m pretty frustrated right now,” said Councilman Chauncey Poston. “I feel like we’re in the middle of a great big fight. The angst meter is going through the roof right now. This initiative will further divide a community that is not that far apart.”

The initiative would require a public vote on any changes to the land-use element of the 2020 General Plan. It also extends the life of the land-use element 20 years to 2038.

The council is expected to vote to put the measure on the Nov. 3 ballot after the next report is completed late June. At that time, council members are also expected to vote on a resolution opposing the initiative.

Earlier in the evening, Keith Wagner of the Sacramento law firm Kenyon/Yates and Grant Cattaneo of the Friends of Grass Valley criticized a city staff report that said the initiative would harm the city’s economic future, undermine its planning efforts and require the city to retool its 2020 General Plan.

While defending the initiative’s merits in a question-and-answer session with the council, Wagner said the measure would provide a “check on abuses of power,” letting voters decide and “not five people influenced by speculating developers.”

Four council members responded directly to what they called an attack on their character.

“I resent that my integrity has been challenged by a Sacramento attorney who has never met me,” Councilman Dan Miller said.

Councilwoman Jan Arbuckle, who was appointed to her post, also took issue with the lawyer’s comments.

“I was appointed because I had no agenda,” she said. “I’m not in anybody’s pocket, and I like it that way. I resent what the Friends of Grass Valley and this attorney are implying.”

Before being admonished by the council members for his comment, Wagner said the city’s staff report was filled with “misrepresentations” concerning the initiative that was written by his law firm and modeled after a similar measure that voters approved in Napa County in the 1990s.

“We think it is not accurate and it is misleading,” he said.

Wagner, whose firm specializes in environmental and land-use issues, said the city can change its General Plan with the approval of voters.

“This provides for a greater degree of democracy with land-use changes,” Wagner said. “It allows city residents to decide if it meets their vision.”

But putting every change to the land-use element of the General Plan before voters means nothing will get approved, city council members and other critics said.

The initiative would require a vote to use a property more intensively than the General Plan allows.

Tom Parilo, a private land-use planner, said holding public elections on projects will lead to “sound-bite planning” and planning that is “reactionary, not visionary.”

Pat Wynne of Grass Valley said that even though she was a friend of some the initiative’s proponents, she opposed the measure.

“It is simply bad planning,” she said. “We’re in a period of change now.”

Others challenged the motives of Friends of Grass Valley.

“I don’t understand why Grant is doing this,” said Paul Aguilar of the Nevada County Planning Commission. “Is it to stop growth? Is it to divide the community?”

Earlier in the evening, Cattaneo said the initiative would give “voters the opportunity to vote on these matters.” He also complained that the city had treated his organization poorly in the past.

To contact Staff Writer Pat Butler, e-mail pbutler@theunion.com or call 477-4239.

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