5/20/2005

Supervisors take major fire during forum: The (Woodland CA) Daily Democrat, 5/20/05

City lawsuit contentious point of debate

By Eve Hightower

Yolo County supervisors' decisions took major fire Wednesday at a public forum.
Supervisors Duane Chamberlain and Frank Sieferman Jr., city councilmen Dave Flory and Matt Rexroad and about 60 other people attended the discussion hosted by Woodlanders for Responsible Government, a nonpartisan group that seeks to inform Woodlanders of issues pertinent to the city.

The county's lawsuit against the city was among the most contentious points of debate.

Last March, Yolo County filed suit against Woodland to block development of a shopping center near Interstate 5. The county wants to halt the City Council's approval of the Woodland Gateway and Auto Mall, which would blanket 77 acres of prime farmland with retail stores, auto center and parking lot.

Mayor Rexroad said the county is just trying to win a share of sales-tax revenues from the project.

Supervisors Chamberlain and Sieferman disagreed, saying the project's environmental impact review is faulty and the city needs to mitigate for the loss of agricultural land and impacts to nearby agricultural operations.

Sieferman said the county repeatedly objected to the review, and concerns were not fully addressed. The county's concerns include a proposed interstate on-ramp, effects on other retail centers in Woodland, and wastewater treatment systems and water supply.

Rexroad said the county's statements about the need for agricultural land mitigation is just a front for their pursuit of money.

"It's about money. Be honest," he said.

The Gateway project is expected to provide at least $1.5 million to city coffers annually. Under a 1989 revenue-sharing agreement, Yolo County could gain more than $600,000 in property taxes from the project. The county would not partake of sales-tax revenue.

Chamberlain said the project would impact several county services, like roads, jails and waste.

"Once it's in the city, your not free of the county," he said. "There's no landfill in the city."

Rexroad said the board's suing the city is a sketchy policy decision. Sieferman and Chamberlain said their decision was based on information provided to them by county staff.

"You can choose not to take council's advise," Rexroad said.

The subject of debate shifted from the lawsuit to this week's announcement of the county-Wintun Indian alliance in purchasing Conaway Ranch to flood control protection to a city urban limit line and Assemblywoman Lois Wolk's proposed legislation to designate more than 30 miles of Cache Creek a wild, scenic and recreational area.

Several attendees pressed the supervisors on the county's use of eminent domain to acquire Conaway Ranch and agreement with the Rumsey Band of Wintun Indians. The tribe has pledged to "fully assist" Yolo County in buying the 17,300-acre ranch.

Jim Nielsen asked if there is a connection between the funding agreement and the board's approval of a golf course at the tribe's Cache Creek Casino Resort.

"No," Sieferman said.

Others asked why the agreement hadn't been discussed openly before Tuesday's press conference, where the alliance was announced.

"Nothing has been signed and there are no terms of agreement," Sieferman said.

He added the county and tribe have yet to create an agreement and there has been no board action.

Others questioned the county's determination to acquire the ranch.

"If we'd never gotten involved, anyone could own it by now - and they wouldn't be farmers," Chamberlain said.

Chamberlain reminded the audience that he ran for office last fall on a platform in opposition to the county's use of eminent domain to acquire the property. Now that he is in office, he has to deal with the board's choice to fight for the ranch.

Chamberlain said he'd like to see the ranch owned by those who farm it. He said the county could put easements on the land to take down its value and make it affordable to farmers.

Rexroad also suggested the county place easements on the property.

"And I think Gidaro's group would be willing to do that," he said in reference to ranch owners Conaway Preservation Group of which Steve Gidaro is a member.

"The county has to decide they can't fight every fight," Rexroad said earlier Thursday evening.

Rexroad said he thought the county was right to use eminent domain when dealing with an unwilling seller, but the ranch has since changed hands and the county should reconsider it's strategy.


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