At its regular meeting on Tuesday, June 26, the Tulare County Board of Supervisors agreed with recommendations that the Planning Commission made at a special meeting held on Wednesday, May 30. The BOS adopted the Three Rivers Community Plan Update and certified the Final Environmental Impact Report.
The entire set of documents consists of nearly 3,000 pages after comments and responses were added as appendices. The new Community Plan now effectively replaces the last one that was approved in 1980.
There was no contentious public hearing, and only two Three Rivers community members chose to speak in front of the Board. David Wood, Ph.D., who assists the County and the State in several areas related to aging and mental health, continued to be an outspoken critic as he cited inadequacies of the plan and the process.
The Board also chose to deny two recommendations that the Planning Commission made relevant to implementation. The first recommendation was to change the Voluntary Oak Woodland Management Plan and fast-track the plan to become an ordinance that would preserve more than 150 heritage oaks extant within the Three Rivers UDB (urban development boundaries). No mention was made by staff that the Three Rivers-specific ordinance was offered to address protection of these oaks.
Chairman Worthley stated that if an ordinance was passed, it should be county-wide and, given the current fire risk due to dead and dying trees, a protective ordinance was not appropriate. Staff made no mention that clusters of these heritage oaks do not exist in other parts of the county except on the upper reaches of the Yokohl Ranch.
Worthley was not made aware as to the intent of the recommendations and asked staff rhetorically, “Why would the Planning Commissions make recommendations with a community plan?”
Cindy Howell, Three Rivers Community Services District, general manager, made a plea for the Board to support the Planning Commission’s other recommendation: to furnish the CSD with five percent of the transient occupancy tax (hotel tax) that is collected in Three Rivers as start-up funds to develop community-driven projects and apply for grants. Howell turned in copies of a petition of support for the funding that contained the names of more than 200 Three Rivers residents.
Howell said the recent appropriation of funds for public restrooms in Three Rivers is a good start but money will be needed for maintenance and, more importantly, development of projects to attract investors and spur economic growth. The five percent, Howell said, is money collected in Three Rivers and should be used for local improvements.
When the board asked staff how much TOT is collected in Three Rivers, Dave Bryant, special projects planner, answered $1 million, and that amount represents 50 percent of the TOT collected in all of unincorporated Tulare County.
Bryant cited conflicting information from what was provided at a Three Rivers town meeting in 2016. Rita Woodard, who was then the Tulare County tax collector, told a Three Rivers audience that in 2015 the TOT in Three Rivers was $1.5 million, which represented more than 75 percent of TOT collected county-wide.
That amount, Woodard reported at the time, was expected to increase as more of the short-term vacation rentals were entered into the tax rolls. Supervisor Vander Poel (District 2-Tulare) said giving Three Rivers the use of its own money was a “slippery slope” because other communities might ask for a share of their tax dollars too.
Supervisor Ennis (District 5-Porterville) said if Three Rivers wants money then they should tax themselves like Springville did when they voted for an assessment to make improvements in the downtown.
Supervisor Crocker (District 1 including Three Rivers) said he might be willing to support a CSD request for funds if they provided specific projects. A number of potential projects are listed in the Community Plan: town center, river access park, transit center, walkable streets, affordable housing in mixed use zoning, and more.
County staff won’t be working on a Three Rivers project anytime soon. They’re busy preparing an EIR for a new Dollar General adjacent to River Island (Springville) and on the next community plan (Goshen).