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Ebbetts Pass Scenic Byway Vote Due Monday

The future of Ebbetts Pass will be decided by the Board of Supervisors Monday, and by most indications it will not become a national scenic byway.

The first consideration of the Ebbetts Pass Corridor Management Plan ended in a tie vote with Supervisors Tom Tryon and Victoria Erickson voting no. Supervisors Merita Callaway and Lucy Thein support the plan. Supervisor Paul Stein was absent.

Tryon, Erickson and Stein have all said private property rights would be violated should the plan pass, despite assurances there are no hidden conditions.

The plan is required to apply for the national scenic byway program run by the Federal Highway Administration. In 1971 the road became a State Scenic Highway. It runs 58 miles from Arnold to Markleeville on Highway 4.

Stein, who will break the tie, would not say how he would vote on Monday. He did say, “I´ve expressed reservations all along.” Stein and Erickson previously voted yes on the plan when it came to the Council of Government (COG) Board of Directors, on which they serve. COG is the county´s regional transportation agency and developed the plan over a three-year period. Its seven-member board includes supervisors, Angels Camp representatives and citizens at-large.

Erickson has not explained why she switched her vote after the COG decision. Stein said he only voted yes on the plan at COG “to make sure everyone had an opportunity to review it.”

The plan calls for formation of a community group to identify improvements such as parking turnouts, trails, elderly and handicapped access points, interpretive information kiosks and more.

The FHA gives a great deal of regard or authority to this local group, in essence taking away what the private property owner can do on the property, Stein said. “I´ve never been in favor of that,” he explained. When asked for examples, Stein said, “It´s all over the Sierra.”

He said Planning for Prosperity, a plan by the Sierra Business Council, has “all kinds of examples.” Even though the ultimate decision on a community plan lies with the Board of Supervisors, Stein said, “If you have a liberally oriented board and they´re listening to the community trying to steer the ship in that direction, … it gets voted in.”

“That´s why you have to be careful who you elect and put into office,” he said.

Stein is serving the last year of his term and is not running for re-election.

Steve Wilensky, one of two candidates running for Stein´s seat, said he would vote in favor of the scenic byway. Wilensky said he has faith in the community to come to a consensus that´s in the best interest of everyone. “My worry is that some interests have greater say than others,” he said. “Sierra Pacific Industries … is getting an inordinate amount of weight in the decision.”

SPI, which owns about 74,000 acres in Calaveras County, announced its opposition to the plan last week, saying the plan could limit the company´s operations along the corridor.

David Studley, Wilensky´s opponent, said, he would vote no on the scenic byway. SPI contributed to Studley´s campaign.

“It was sold to the public under the guise of a business-oriented plan to attract tourists. Under that guise what they really want to do is implement regulations,” Studley said. “It´s an attempt to interject a level of land-use planning … that may be no less restrictive and likely would be more restrictive for the area and the timber harvest plans.”

Bill Claudino, who will take over for Lucy Thein in January, wasn´t able to comment since he´s been out of town for the past couple of weeks. Before he left York, England, on a plane to London, he returned phone calls to explain he would catch up on the issue when he returns home next week.

Assuming Erickson does not change her vote again, it is most likely the plan will fail.

Calls to Erickson were never returned. One call was lost due to poor cell phone reception. A follow up call revealed she would be in Texas until today.

Businesses along the corridor support the plan saying it would bring in more tourism dollars. The Greater Arnold Business Association invited SPI to attend its monthly meeting last night. COG Executive Director George Dondero and Supervisor Merita Callaway also were to speak.

Also Monday, the board will decide whether to put a measure on the Nov. 2 ballot to increase the Transient Occupancy Tax from 6 to 10 percent. TOT is imposed on guests of hotels, motels, bed and breakfast inns, and weekend cabins. The tax is sometimes called a bed tax.

Calaveras Enterprise story by Vanessa Turner. For more Calaveras news, click:calaverasenterprise.com