Initiative drive stirs the political pot |

Initiative drive stirs the political pot

When proponents of the Mountain Area Preservation Foundation’s initiative to limit the scope of PC-2 drop off their petition at town hall tomorrow, there’s little doubt the drive will have garnered enough signatures to place the measure on the November ballot.

PC-2 (Planned Community 2), located north of the Interstate 80/Highway 89 interchange, encompasses land owned by the Hopkins Family Trust. Although development plans for a 789-acre parcel on PC-2 known as Boca Sierra Estates have been drawn up, a formal application has not yet been submitted. Nonetheless, the specter of 175,000 square feet of commercial space, which MAPF says could be built within PC-2’s 50 acres of allotted commercial development, prompted the Truckee watchdog group to take matters into its own hands earlier this spring.

Despite vigorous opposition from MAPF during the town’s general plan process, PC-2 was approved with a considerable amount of commercial development rights. A decade ago, MAPF went the route of suing the county to block construction of a K-Mart at a site near the I-80 interchange.

This time around, MAPF decided on a new tactic and pursued a ballot initiative that bypasses the town’s process and puts the decision of PC-2 in the hands of voters.

The initiative process has spawned a considerable amount of debate, rumor and speculation the past few weeks. Here are some of the more interesting developments I’ve run across:

— With a groundswell of positive response to its initiative effort, MAPF’s leverage at the bargaining table apparently has grown immensely. For instance, town, Hopkins Family and MAPF representatives met a few weeks ago in a closed-door session to ostensibly craft a compromise on the initiative process.

Following eight hours of negotiating, the parties made no such announcement.

Although MAPF subsequently altered its initiative to allow about 25,000 square feet of commercial space (approximately half of the Safeway center), that is far less than Boca Sierra Estates developers would prefer. In fact, word has it MAPF was willing to settle for a higher square footage – something in the Safeway-complex range of 50,000 -a year ago when informal talks between the developers and MAPF occurred.

Times have changed.

— The downtown factor. There are some in the community who view the initiative as largely orchestrated by downtown businesspeople worried about competition from commercial centers developed away from the downtown core.

Such fears probably are already heightened by the long-awaited construction start of the Highway 267 Bypass -as in bypassing downtown – that is expected to occur by the end of the century. No matter how much one believes downtown has matured into a tourist draw that will remain economically healthy whether a bypass is built, some measure of trepidation over the combination of 175,000 square feet of commercial and a bypass certainly must influence downtown business support for the initiative.

— Two can play this game … – In light of the PC-2 initiative momentum, there is word some sort of organized opposition to MAPF and the initiative (other than the obvious objections from the developers) is in the formative stages.

Perhaps frustration with the initiative process itself fuels this effort. A flier circulating around town argues that “By taking the issue to a vote you paradoxically decrease public participation, for the countless hours spent by all members of the public over the course of the last three or more years could be subverted by a small special interest group. In actuality there is far less public input and fine-tuning opportunities via this heavy-handed approach.”

The flier, apparently distributed throughout the local real estate industry, also claims the initiative potentially “damages” the entire Truckee General Plan.

“The fiscal constraints of the town are well-known; a significant reduction in the commercial floorspace and other revenue positive opportunities that are built into the general plan could jeopardize the funding necessary to improve the town core as expressed in the Downtown Specific Plan. Road repairs and other services could also be adversely effected in the medium- and long-range future if we begin to engage in a ‘shotgun’ approach to land-use planning via the ballot box.”

Some would argue “ballot box” voting represents how Truckee became a town in the first place.

— Back to the future – While there’s been a focus on PC-2 this spring, a disincorporation movement reportedly also has been the topic of a few informal meetings. Dissatisfaction with snow removal, road conditions and consolidation discussions seem to represent some of the motivating factors here.

People may have their beefs with the Town of Truckee, but disincorporation seems the wrong way to go – I don’t buy the argument we were better off with county representation prior to incorporation. If there’s dissatisfaction with the current council, we as voters have the opportunity to make wholesale changes.

Through elections, or recall if something egregious occurs, voters can select five new members within a two-year period. On the county level, we have one supervisor among five board members who specifically represents Truckee – and the eastern county consists of only a portion of the entire district.

Given the choice, local control and local elected officials get my vote.

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