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Council takes watchdog role in SACOG map debate

By: Carol Feineman, Editor
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I had to re-watch two-and-a-half hours of the last City Council meeting since much of it seemed like jargon during a sustainable communities strategy presentation. The presentation was about the Sacramento Area Council of Governments’ (SACOG) Metropolitan Transportation Plan 2035, involving 22 cities in six counties. The plan must be updated every four years to receive federal and state transportation funds. But councilmen didn’t have the luxury of hitting the TV replay button. They had one opportunity - the Nov. 8 presentation – to understand the complex presentation. Fortunately for Lincoln’s residents, the councilmen were dialed in to the presentation. The majority of councilmen acted as Lincoln’s “watchdogs” at the Nov. 8 meeting. Councilman Spencer Short led them in noting inadequacies to the Sacramento Area Council of Governments’ plan. Due to Short’s questioning the presentation by the agency’s chief executive officer Mike McKeever, the metropolitan transportation plan wasn’t automatically approved to the next level. Instead, Short demonstrated how the plan could shortchange Lincoln’s economic future. The other council members, except for Tom Cosgrove who is a Sacramento Area Council of Governments member; followed Short’s lead in saying the plan did not benefit Lincoln’s future. “I’m concerned because this affects the next 20 years of planning we’ll do in Lincoln,” Short said Friday. “We need to determine which areas are best suited for growing. What SACOG has done is remove the economic engine from Lincoln’s General Plan.” Specifically, the agency estimates that Lincoln’s growth will occur east of downtown, as shown on its Metropolitan Transportation Plan 2035 map draft. “The map that we have in our draft plan for the city of Lincoln was made in concert with city staff,” McKeever said. “We provided the draft map and growth numbers estimates five times during an 18-month period.” The agency’s map has not indicated any new growth along the Highway 65 Bypass corridor nor at the airport. And the agency’s draft map shrinks Lincoln’s downtown, which actually runs from 1st to 7th Street, to two blocks. “The city has the right to determine where growth should occur. They’ve taken our authority and told us where to develop,” Short said. “The city of Lincoln and City Council have the authority to determine policy. SACOG doesn’t have the authority.” McKeever this week agreed and added that his agency isn’t saying where to develop. “SACOG has no land-use authority whatsoever. That power is left with the cities and the counties. State law is very clear about that,” McKeever said. “That does not mean that as the city of Lincoln executes its land-use authority, there is no impact on areas that are regulated by state and federal laws. The city can do whatever it wants with land use but that doesn’t give the city the power to order SACOG to automatically amend a regional map.” After more than two hours of discussion Nov. 8, City Council called a special meeting for this past Tuesday to decide what changes Sacramento Area Council of Governments should make to its Metropolitan Transportation Plan. “This is the kind of thing you have to go through three to four times to get clear. That’s part of the problem,” McKeever said this week. “One city councilman (Cosgrove) has worked on it for a decade and he gets it. The others are getting involved now. It’s not surprising or unique that busy public policymakers don’t fully understand all of the details and complexities involved in meeting the state and federal laws.” Whether the agency adopts the transportation plan next April, McKeever said, Lincoln “can grow in any way it wants, in regards to the airport, downtown and highway bypass.” The agency, under state statute SB 375, can update the plan within two years, according to McKeever. “The SACOG board has the option to update the Lincoln map now. But it would add several months to the process and regional damages would occur,” McKeever said. “If we don’t get this plan adopted on time, there will be a restriction of some of the federal funding coming to the region.” Short, though, said the agency has worked on the plan for the last 20 months. “That is enough time to do a full environmental analysis yet it was never presented to the public,” Short said. City Council directed Cosgrove at Tuesday’s special meeting to abstain from voting at the Nov. 17 Sacramento Area Council of Governments meeting on releasing the transportation plan for public review. Council members also told Cosgrove to present their concerns about the plan and the process. Cosgrove said he appreciated the discussion at both council meetings. “This is a very important topic. The council was very clear in abstaining so that we can register some concerns with the information within the plan and some of the processes,” Cosgrove said. “This is the first time we had a metropolitan transportation plan that had a sustainable communities strategy that is related to greenhouse gases. It’s not surprising that there is a higher level of interest and because of that, it’s more important that we communicate better with each other and with city staff because of the policy implications. And Short said it “was a good and long” discussion. “We’re looking forward to seeing how it progresses and the next steps,” Short said.