Staked out: Sacramento County supervisors set legislative goals amid uncertain political climate

Obtaining CEQA exemption for suburban infill developments tops list

This is an extended version of a story that ran in the January 26, 2017, issue.

Faced with a new and unpredictable administration, Sacramento County’s political leaders kept to tradition last week, signing off on a list of legislative priorities they want state and federal lawmakers to consider this year.

The items reflect official policy stances the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors would take if related legislation is proposed at the state or federal government levels, and call for expanding health care and homeless services while reining in environmental review requirements for large suburban developments.

At the state level, county officials are hoping to take advantage of a law that helped expedite construction of the Golden 1 Center in the city of Sacramento.

Authored by Mayor Darrell Steinberg before he left the state Senate, the law grants California Environmental Review Act exemptions to transit-served infill projects, which refers to “building within unused and underutilized lands within existing development patterns,” according to the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research website. But the law only applies to incorporated cities, not counties. At the behest of their planning department, supervisors hope to change that.

Sacramento County Planning Director Leighann Moffitt said the adopted statement has been a long time coming, and better reflects the reality of local development in 2017.

“The state law is set up under the presumption that cities are really more the urban areas and counties are rural,” Moffitt told SN&R. “The state CEQA exemptions don’t recognize the circumstance for an unincorporated area that can really be very city-like in nature.”

As part of this year’s attempt to anticipate new legislation, supervisors also articulated their support for expanding health and housing services for vulnerable populations. One policy statement supported increasing dental care access to children at the request of First 5 Sacramento.

According to 2014 figures, the latest available from the local First 5 commission, 67 percent of Medi-Cal eligible children in the county did not receive preventative screening dental services during the year. According to the same data, 95 percent of dental-related emergency room visits could have been prevented by such treatment.

Supervisors also supported expanding Medicaid coverage for homeless people and maintaining federal funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, with an added official statement to “support funding to help reduce barriers to accessing fresh food including at farmer’s markets.”

These all face uncertain futures under the new administration of President Donald Trump, who is making progress on his promise to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and has suggested capping the federal government’s contribution to Medicaid, which could potentially leave millions of eligible people uninsured.

Other local policy stances seek to address homeless-related issues at the state and federal levels. In particular, supervisors voted to “support legislation that promotes and finances the development of affordable housing and supportive services,” a staff report states, with an emphasis on “rapid rehousing” and additional funding for transition-age youth.

Defined by the federal government as those aged 16 to 24, the Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs says this group is at elevated risk when aging out of foster programs and juvenile detention facilities.