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Columbia Developer Responds To Farkas

Regarding the Letter to the Editor by Barbara Farkas as President of Citizen for Responsible Growth

I, Gary Simning, am writing to inform the public about the facts missing from Barbara Farkas’s letter on Friday, March 14 in the Union Democrat. The letter relates to the Columbia Apartment project my company attempted to develop to bring greatly needed rental housing opportunities to Tuolumne County. Ms. Farkas’s comments profoundly misrepresent the truth, intent and professionalism of the parties involved. With the rational for the lawsuit against the Columbia Apartments, Ms. Farkas and the Citizen for Responsible Growth (CFRG) would have you believe that all the agencies responsible for reviewing the project environmental impacts, (US Army Corps of Engineers, California State Water Quality Board, California Department of Transportation, the Tuolumne County Planning Department, Tuolumne County Department of Public Works, other qualified and licensed professionals, and our elected Board of Supervisors) all ignored state law and community ordinances when approving the project.

The Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors and the Sonora City Council are elected by the citizens of this county to protect and enhance the quality of life within our community. Each of these elected officials has presented their vision for enhancing our community to the voters. If their decisions and actions prove to be contrary to the wishes of the citizens of this county they are held accountable at the ballot box. Who are Ms. Farkas and CFRG accountable to?

California law and the County General Plan require a lengthy and detailed process for development within our community. Tens of thousands and often hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent hiring qualified professionals (biologists, engineers, land planners, architects, traffic engineers, hydrologists, etc.) to identify and mitigate impacts from any given project. The sole purpose of the county and city staff of trained professionals is to balance all input and insure that all the laws and ordinances are fully met. This is a process that generally takes several years and includes reviews, comments and conditions of approval from both state and county officials. Citizen input is sought and encouraged by the county staff through the review process and the public hearings. The lawsuits and the threat of lawsuits generated by Citizen for Responsible Growth and Central Sierra Environmental Resources Center stifle and discourage any significant development within the county. Mrs. Farkas’s “let them eat cake” attitude represented in her letter shows a shocking lack of knowledge of the development process and a caviler lack of concern for the reality of the high level of personal involvement and expense required of any project. She says that she wants to have community input, but what she really means is that their small opposition group’s opinion is the only one that matters.

Would you like to see more living wage jobs for yourself and your children, roads without pot holes, schools with a stable enrollment, more law enforcement and fire protection personnel, better housing options, a wider variety of retail shopping options and a prosperous community?

Barbara Farkas, and the other small opposition groups, criticize most of the needed projects that are proposed and have no such vision for our future. They offer no solutions for the declining population, declining enrollment in our schools, bad roads, lack of good paying jobs, all the while professing to know the “key to a successful business venture”.

It takes no courage to criticize and malign others while risking nothing! I would encourage Barbara Farkas and the other members of the opposition groups to step forward and risk their own money, time, and effort by bringing forward a project or business within our community and show everyone how it should be done. It’s very easy to criticize, malign the hard work efforts of others when you have risked nothing yourself.

Where is the Citizens for Responsible Growth’s commitment? Are they investing their money in the community?

Why do they continually negate the input of others and their elected officials within this county (who also have a vested interest in the beauty and prosperity of this county)? Why do they keep their membership hidden? The Business Council’s membership is open for all to see. The Tuolumne County Business Council’s membership includes large and small businesses, nonprofit organizations and citizens at large, organized to look for ways to improve our community and our quality of life. They ask for and encourage community involvement to find balanced solutions which address the environment and provide the jobs and tax revenues we need to protect and enhance our community. It is time for the Citizens For Responsible Growth, and the other small opposition groups, to be held accountable for the negative consequences of their methods, methods that do not serve the best interest of our county or our quality of life.