Green Light Burns Brightly for Growth in Placer County
By percentage, Western Placer County's growth rate is about the fastest of any area in California. And the cities of Roseville, Lincoln and Rocklin — and Placer County itself — are planning for numerous large developments with tens of thousands of housing units.
Placer County is located along the Interstate 80 corridor in metropolitan Sacramento. But unlike the region's other eastern growth corridor — El Dorado County along Highway 50 — Placer County has escaped major growth fights. Still, Placer County is faced with mounting traffic problems, air pollution and questions about water availability. Public opinion polls indicate area residents are concerned about traffic and sprawl, but "it hasn't turned into any real political movement" in Placer County, conceded Ed Pandolfino, Sierra Foothills Audubon Society conservation chairman.
Jack Wallace, president of the Roseville Coalition of Neighborhood Associations, would like to see his city rein in growth. But Wallace, a former planning commissioner who lost a City Council bid last fall, said he cannot convince Roseville's newer residents about growth-related problems. Wallace and Pandolfino agreed that many of the newcomers are from the Bay Area and do not see western Placer County's growth as detrimental.
So it appears to be full-speed-ahead for growth — one reason the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG) is pushing a regional anti-sprawl plan. Among the largest projects:
• The west Roseville specific plan, which covers 3,100 acres west of town. Roseville intends to annex that territory and an adjacent 2,100 acres. Under a memorandum of understanding with the county, the city could permit 15,600 housing units on the 5,200 acres. The two sides have been in intense negotiations regarding tax sharing and mitigating development impacts, Placer County Planning Director Fred Yeager said.
• The 1,800-acre Sunset Ranchos between Rocklin and Lincoln. Rocklin is planning to annex the land, where 4,200 housing units and 480 acres of commercial, office and industrial development are planned.
• Placer Vineyards, a 5,000-acre, 14,000-house project in unincorporated territory near Roseville. An environmental impact report on the specific plan is due later this year.
• An 1,800-acre California State University campus and new community proposed by Los Angeles-based developer Eli Broad for unincorporated land just north of Roseville.
• An 1,100-acre Christian Brothers religious order university and campus community — all backed by Sacramento developer Angelo Tsakapoulos — for unincorporated territory west of Roseville.
In addition, both Lincoln and Rocklin are updating their general plans. Lincoln is looking to grow northwest into new territory to accommodate a growth rate of more 5% annually through 2025.
This level of growth in the cities has become business as usual. In 20 years, Roseville has grown from a city a 26,000 people centered around rail yards to a city of 90,000, and Hewlett Packard, with 4,500 workers, is by far the largest employer. With a huge Sun City development and less exclusive subdivisions, Lincoln — whose population has quintupled in two decades to more than 20,000 — has become a bedroom and retirement community. And Rocklin, whose population also has quintupled in 20 years (partly because of annexation), is filling with houses, apartments, offices and stores. By 2025, the three cities combined will be home to about 240,000 people, according to SACOG.
However, the growth plans for unincorporated Placer County mark a departure. For 30 years, the county has directed growth to cities. But with its most recent general plan update, the county designated the Placer Vineyards site as an urban growth area because growth in nearby Sacramento County is making farming infeasible and because there is good access to roads, and water and sewer facilities, Yeager explained. Plus, Roseville has not wanted to annex the territory.
The two university-based proposals are in the early planning stages. In July, the county returned the Christian Brothers' application as incomplete and inappropriate for the agricultural area, Yeager said. The other campus would start as a CSU Sacramento extension and evolve into a separate, 15,000-student campus; the neighboring new community would include a variety of development types. The site, though, is near the county garbage dump and is zoned for industry and agriculture. Yeager said he will seek direction from the Board of Supervisors before processing either proposal.
Meanwhile, the 5,200 acres covered by the Roseville-county MOU represent the next frontier for that city. Plan details and an EIR are due in late summer, said Vance Jones, Roseville project planner. Before starting the planning process last year, the city conducted a feasibility analysis because the city had done earlier infrastructure modeling based on buildout within existing city boundaries — and did not take into account the MOU area. The analysis found, among other things, that the development could be a money-loser for the city and that a new source of water is needed. Still, city officials concluded that developers and the city could overcome the obstacles.
Ray Giles, chairman of a citizens traffic task force that recently released a report urging congestion and safety upgrades, is not convinced. "It will generate traffic congestion, not so much in that area, but in the existing portions of Roseville," Giles said.
The Christian Brothers' proposal concerns both slow-growth advocates and the city. Community activist Wallace contended the university plan is a ploy to get local government officials to open the area for development. Jones said the proposal conflicts with the city's desire not to sprawl all the way to Sutter County. "It's exactly this kind of thing that got us thinking about a western buffer," Jones said.
But during a recent presentation to the Roseville Chamber of Commerce, Tsakapoulos planning consultant Tom Lumbrazo boasted of the 6,000-student university's social benefits and said the site would not remain in the "middle of nowhere" for long.
In Lincoln, development outlined in the 1987 general plan occurred faster than expected, Community Development Director Rod Campbell said. Del Webb has built about half of its 6,800-unit Sun City Lincoln Hills retirement community, and development is proceeding at the 3,400-unit Twelve Bridges and 2,900-unit Lincoln Crossings projects.
"We've kind of become this mix of retirees and very young families," Campbell said. The influx has helped downtown, where eateries, stores and offices thrive. But traffic routinely jams on Highway 65, which remains the two-lane main street through downtown.
A bypass around downtown is planned and $170 million is programmed, but construction is at least four years away. Still, Campbell, who has been with the city 23 years, hears few complaints about growth. The last growth protest was a late-80's initiative that sought to block the city's southward expansion. The initiative lost 5-to-1.
Fred Yeager, Placer County, (530) 886-3000.
Vance Jones, City of Roseville, (916) 774-5276.
Rod Campbell, City of Lincoln, (916) 645-3320.
Jack Wallace, Roseville Coalition of Neighborhood Associations, (916) 782-5924.
Ray Giles, Roseville traffic task force, (916) 781-3458.