Community

Georgetown Preservation Society Sues the County

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Conducting her due diligence on the eve of the BOS hearing, Supervisor Shiva Frentzen (photo left) tours the proposed Dollar General site with Dave Souza (right) and other newfound friends

On May 6, 2016 the Georgetown Preservation Society (GPS) filed a petition in Superior Court for a writ of mandate directed at both El Dorado County and the Board of Supervisors. GPS, reportedly formed to appeal the Planning Commission’s approved Dollar General Georgetown design review to the BOS, is now challenging the Board’s denial of that appeal — and their adoption of the Mitigated Negative Declaration in lieu of an environmental impact review (EIR), and approval to construct a 9,100 square-foot Dollar General store on Main Street in the heart of historic Georgetown.

The suit alleges that GPS is an unincorporated association that wants sound planning and responsible growth for Georgetown and its neighboring communities.  According to the group’s attorney Donald B. Mooney, GPS has petitioned the court on behalf of all persons too numerous to name, that would suffer from damage to natural and cultural resources should the project move forward at the proposed location. “The Georgetown Preservation Society, and the many residents of Georgetown that took the time to appear and speak before the Board of Supervisors, have exhausted all remedies afforded them by the administrative process.”

While the County and BOS are both named as respondents in the case, the real parties of interest are Simon CRE Abbie, the developer for this and other Dollar General stores in California, and Denton and Carolyn Beam, who own the several parcels that would be merged together to accommodate this project.

Dave Souza and GPS appealed the project on March 8, after a prior appeal from Dennis Smith was denied by the Planning Commission on February 25th.  Souza’s appeal was heard before the Board of Supervisors inside a packed meeting house on April 5, wherein thirty members of the public got up and spoke before the Board with only one, El Dorado Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman Laurela Brent-Bumb, promoting the project. The BOS ultimately denied Souza’s appeal and in so doing, approved a Dollar General store with parking for more than 30 vehicles, a loading dock and trash enclosure facing Main Street, an 8-foot retaining wall, a driveway for delivery trucks entering Main Street, sidewalk improvements and a crosswalk over Orleans Street.  The respondents then filed a Notice of Determination with the County Clerk on the following day.

GPS claims that the Board abused its discretion and failed to act in the manner required under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by not adequately analyzing environmental impacts, mitigation measures and alternatives.  The suit effectively argues that approval of Dollar General Georgetown will lead to environmental impacts, and that the County does not have evidence that those impacts will not be significant.

The petition cites damage to wetlands and the Empire Creek watershed downstream to the American River, harm to resident fauna, impingement on pedestrian and traffic safety and serious injury to property, aesthetics, historical resources and aggrieved persons.  GPS further asserts that the geology and soils are unsuitable to any kind of significant construction unless a mine safety investigation is completed to demonstrate the subsurface is not honeycombed with tunnels.  Other causes of action include the county’s failure to require an EIR as mandated under CEQA, and decisions made by the respondents that are inconsistent with multiple policies of the General Plan.

Supervisor Brian Veerkamp (District 3) acknowledged concern about all the water flowing through the project site, but said later in the hearing that a Dollar General in Georgetown would reduce the need to travel downhill for shopping, thereby relieving the road system from wear and tear. After a motion was brought by Supervisor Sue Novasel (District 5) to deny the appeal and uphold the design review, Veerkamp offered his final comments. “…Based on our need that is consistent with the General Plan, consistent with our Economic Development Advisory Committee’s strategic plan, consistent with our strategic plan and the identification of sales tax that continues to leave this county, I think we need to try to work towards more services for people that don’t have the ability to shop locally. I wish our locals could provide that, and I think some of them do and are doing a good job, but we need some more capability. This is some of that capability. That’s why I second it.”

Michael Ranalli, Supervisor of District 4 (which includes the Georgetown Divide) closed with, “So you know this is really hard for me, and I’ve heard from a lot of folks who have a different opinion than the folks here in the room. But as I said before, I have great respect for those who have property interests near here, whose family goes back a long way, but I also – all of us – were sworn in to follow the law. We’re talking about a commercial use on a commercially-zoned property in a commercial district. To say no to this project puts this county in a position of spending your tax dollars another way, and potentially ending up with this store. Now I know you all don’t want to believe that, but do case studies across California and you will discover that that is true. I know there are some experts who do not believe, and I would also say on the environmental interests, disagreement among experts does not make the environmental [assessment] inadequate. It’s just disagreement among experts. And it’s clear whatever we do here is not going to make everybody happy, including myself.” With that, Ranalli voted to deny the appeal.

Supervisor Shiva Frentzen (District 2), questioning undergound stability due to historic mining activities and the future safety of the public, was the single dissenter in the vote. “When I see the community not supporting a business… if I were a business coming to a community, to have so much resistance, that’s like a red flag to me. And I don’t see a single person, not even… the Divide Chamber of Commerce here supporting this.” Frentzen visited Georgetown the day before the hearing and walked the project block with Dave Souza and several others including an El Dorado Lantern reporter.  The tour took a ‘short cut’ through mud and blackberry vines in order to afford the supervisor a clear view of the post office side of Empire Creek.  While she declined to comment prior to the hearing, Supervisor Frentzen was willing to pose for a picture with Souza and friends in front of the community horseshoe pits that occupy part of the proposed project site.

Ron Sheckler, President of GPS, reached out to the Lantern and other media outlets in the afternoon of the date their lawsuit was filed in the hope of making their pending case public:  “The California gold rush, which drove the greatest migration of people ever to occur in modern history, resulted in the creation of these gold rush towns in the mother lode that you can still see and visit. I and a few other like-minded individuals, from differing political views and all walks of life mind you, came together over this issue out of a common desire to champion California’s gold rush heritage, beginning with our little Georgetown up here that serves as one of the few remaining vestiges of that era. And our supervisors haven’t listened. They may be representing interests, but not the interest of their constituents as these hearings have proved. We are suing them, forced to sue them, because once they start grading and filling, the damage is irreversibly done. The silver lining in all this is the amazing support GPS has gotten from the townspeople in spite of an apparent media black-out, even from people who live off the hill.”

Rob MacClanahan is also a radio broadcaster at 95.1FM KFOK GEORGETOWN.  Rob covered the April 5th hearing and aired all of the public comments and those of the convening supervisors and county staff in a radio series that you can listen to 24/7 on Public Radio Exchange:

Public comments 1:                          https://www.prx.org/pieces/178248-dollar-general-georgetown

Public comments 2/ BOS begins:    https://www.prx.org/pieces/178249-prince-sue-taylor

BOS approves DG on Main Street:  https://www.prx.org/pieces/182983-how-to-spoil-a-historic-town 

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The proposed project site is viewed in the center of town (background), across Harkness St and beyond the restored stamp mill dedicated by the Little family (silhouette in photo left) and across Main Street from the historic Schmeder House and the town’s oldest hotel, the American River Inn built in 1854 (photo right).