Negative Effects of Litigation on TC
We pay close attention to economic and community indicators as business leaders in Tuolumne County because statistics and trends tell the story about our future. Our quality of life depends on continued viable economic development and a sustainable diversified economy. The alarming trend in Tuolumne County is that our population is declining, aging, and struggling economically. Specifically, our population decreased every year since 2006 except one, over 50% of our population is over fifty years old and residents leaving Tuolumne County for employment increased 168.5% from 2002 to 2009.
In recent years a few small vocal groups significantly slowed or stopped many viable and needed housing, retail and job creation projects approved by our elected officials by using lawsuits. This obstructionist use of litigation must change. We need to find better ways of working collaboratively to chart a viable future for Tuolumne County without litigation or inhibiting needed economic opportunities. These small vocal opposition groups, like CSERC and Citizens for Responsible Growth, will argue that our County is growing too fast and projects need more study. Yet the truth is that our young families and children are moving away, California is already one of the most regulated states for business development and our local economy is struggling. The Federal Government shutdown on the Park, the Rim Fire and the drought only makes it more difficult as we all struggle to recover.
School enrollment is a good gauge of the diversity and future health of a community, and enrollment is down sharply again this year adding to the steady decline over the last 15 years. In an article on mymotherlode.com, Superintendent Joe Silva speculated that the young families in Tuolumne County leave the area because of the lack of jobs here.
Construction was one of the larger industries in Tuolumne County providing a diversity of jobs that employed many of our local high school graduates and working families. Housing starts have sharply declined over the last 10 years due to the downturn in the economy, along with California’s expensive and time consuming arduous permitting process and litigation or threats of litigation
We need to support our community’s job creating businesses – not sue them. The high cost of lawsuits to our community is not just the legal bills to a faceless company. We all pay the price in lack of jobs, higher cost of goods, housing, local taxes, along with reduced community benefits and services. If businesses can’t locate or expand here, they will move to other counties where establishing a business doesn’t include misguided opposition and hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal bills. Ultimately, they will take the jobs they create as well as taxable revenue that helps support our local economy with them. Yet, it’s not only wages and taxable revenue that’s at stake, if we can’t attract or enable builders to provide efficient and affordable neighborhood housing for our younger and working class families, they will continue to leave to seek housing and employment elsewhere.
California has very stringent permitting requirements, and even if those requirements are met, small groups can organize to delay projects, encumber them with additional costly restrictions and mitigation requirements, and significantly downsize them so they are not economically viable. Then, when the project is finally approved by our elected government officials, they can sue the county to stop it. As a community, we need to find a better way to facilitate needed economic development than to face off in court. For example, litigation has now been filed to delay the unanimous approval Blue Mountain Minerals recently received from both the Planning Commission and County Board of Supervisors to expand an area to deposit a mixture of excavated soil and gravel. At the January 7, 2014, Board of Supervisors hearing for the Blue Mountain Minerals approval, several community members and two elected Supervisors spoke about how these senseless lawsuits are used as a weapon against viable economic development and the result is millions of dollars of lost revenue and services for county residents every year. The Tuolumne County Business Council does not feel our residents and businesses should be held hostage by lawsuits. At that same hearing, John Buckley of CSERC stated that CSERC “doesn’t use litigation on every project.” We are very disappointed that CSERC is again continuing their vindictive history of failed litigation against Blue Mountain Minerals in an attempt to further delay the approved project. Only time will tell if these litigious groups will change their tactics and move to work with businesses on solutions that are actually achievable and economically viable for our community.
For more information on the Tuolumne County Business Council click here.
Written by Darrell Slocum