David Solaro is a first-term El Dorado County Supervisor representing the Lake Tahoe area. Solaro is a former police and fire chief for the City of South Lake Tahoe, and he holds a master's degree in organizational management from Cal Poly Pomona.
In May, the Board of Supervisors unanimously endorsed Solaro's plan to begin a "stakeholder assessment" process, which includes creating an eight- to twelve-member steering committee and hiring a neutral facilitator. Solaro's goal is to work through the growth issues that have polarized El Dorado County for years, including the general plan, which a court has invalidated, and Measure Y, a 1998 initiative that requires development to fully fund new roads. He based his proposal on the Water Forum, a wide-reaching group that addresses issues related to the lower American River.
CP&DR What sort of reception have you received?
Solaro Excellent. The majority of the board has been very supportive. We've had somewhat of a dysfunctional county … There have been numerous initiatives on everything from rafting to traffic, lawsuits against specific projects in the county. To me, it was just kind of ridiculous that we're spending so much money on lawsuits. We're spending so much time on redirecting staff constantly, and that to me is a really unknown cost.
Prior to introducing this resolution, I personally contacted a majority of the stakeholders such as the major developers, the traffic initiative coalition, the quality growth group, the taxpayers association, the builders' exchange. [Planning Director] Conrad [Montgomery] contacted a few too. Just a wide variety of people representing all the various interests. I basically asked them, are you ready to sit down and talk. Are you tired of fighting and spending money? If we get a process going, a consensus process similar to what they had for the Water Forum, would you be willing to participate? And every single one said yes.
CP&DR Do you want this process to result in a new general plan?
Solaro I think we need a general feeling from everybody in the county because our general plan has been thrown out of court right now, and I look to this process to resolve the general plan issue also. [We should] resolve the issues that the plan was thrown out on, which were basically environmental issues. … The development community even realizes that smart growth is important and you have to leave open space, trees [and] habitat for your own credibility and for the enjoyment of those who buy the homes. I really see that people are realizing that it's not business as it used to be, where somebody just came in and clear cut property and moved on.
What is going on in this county now is very similar to what went on in the '70s in Lake Tahoe when there were a lot of lawsuits, arguments regarding growth, no-growth, moratoriums. And we're all past that up there now. Everybody works collaboratively. Most organizations and boards up there have representatives from environmental groups, local government, state government. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency is certainly an example.
CP&DR How did El Dorado County get so polarized?
Solaro I think it happens over time. I think there's a lot of things that build up, and then pretty soon people quit talking, and then they accumulate a lot of baggage. And for this type of process to work, the most simple premise is people have to start talking again. And then they have to let go of old baggage of five or 10 years ago and forget who was on what side of an initiative or a lawsuit because that has to be done in order to move forward.
CP&DR Is there common ground that can be found?
Solaro Yes. I think most people agree on more things than they disagree on, and so I think it's important to identify first what we all agree on. Certainly quality of life, air, family-raising, open space, things like that I think you'll find most people do agree on. It's just to what degree, and there's where the work starts. … When you get everybody to list what they agree upon first, and then start comparing it, that really breaks down the barrier.
CP&DR How much pressure does growth in the Sacramento area add, especially in a place like Folsom?
Solaro Folsom is exploding. But once they're done exploding it's got to go further because you see major corporations coming to this county. … There is going to be growth. Growth is reality. It's just the type of growth. Maybe we'll grow in different ways than we have in the past. I don't know. I certainly don't want to predict it. That's the purpose of this whole process — for various segments of the county to come together and decide how we want to grow, which I think is really important.
CP&DR Do you want to come up with some sort of compact or other written document?
Solaro What I envision is some type of document that is formed through consensus of all the different stakeholders — ultimately for the general plan — that is then presented to the Board of Supervisors for adoption. … It would be almost impossible for any elected official to not support something that came from such a vast cross-section of the community.
CP&DR Does this become a campaign issue?
Solaro Well, I'm not running. I've only been in politics a year and five months. I'm new to this. When I ran, one of the things I did use a lot was bringing a consensus process of some type to the board because there had been over the years a lot of animosity among members of the board and different parts of the community.
I think being somewhat of a neutral from the eastern part of the county — the other four districts are on the western part — and having not been part of any of the initiatives or the lawsuits on either side allowed me a little more freedom to be viewed as unbiased in the process.
CP&DR How much of an affect does whatever happens here have at Tahoe?
Solaro In reality, probably not too much because the general plan does not affect the Tahoe basin. The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency controls planning and development up there, and water quality and transportation.
CP&DR Do you have a timeline for this?
Solaro We look to start it as soon as possible. What we are doing now is trying to obtain an available, neutral facilitator. … It has to be somebody that's so neutral, that has no baggage, that's professional, that can hold the groups together and can make everybody play by the same ground rules. That is one of the real keys.
David Solaro spoke with CP&DR Managing Editor Paul Shigley at Solaro's office in Placerville.