Folsom Looks for School, Classroom, Land for Growth
With its well-paying high-tech jobs, close commuting proximity to Sacramento, a scenic location on the American River, ample supplies of new housing and a quaint downtown, Folsom has many assets. Because of those advantages, the city on the eastern edge of Sacramento County has attracted hordes of newcomers in recent years. As a result, schools are overcrowded and the city is rapidly running out of land.
The city is culminating a 10-year effort to expand itself to attract more industrial and commercial growth, while contending with low-income housing advocates who say there is not enough affordable housing. In recent months, the City Council pondered whether to adopt an emergency ordinance to freeze development applications.
Folsom has about 50,000 residents, not including the roughly 7,500 inmates at Folsom State Prison. The city has grown at an annual rate of 5% to 10%, according to Planning Director David Storer, and expects to have as many as 70,000 residents by the year 2013. With all available land expected to be built out by early in the next decade, the city is looking south of Highway 50 to accommodate future growth.
In May, the Sacramento County Local Agency Formation Commission is expected to approve Folsom's application to extend its sphere of influence to include nearly 3,600 acres of hills and woodlands south of the city's current borders, according to John O'Farrell, executive officer of LAFCO. The land is outside the county's current urban growth boundary. In order to gain LAFCO approval for the application — which is the first step towards annexing the land into the city — Folsom officials have agreed to 16 conditions for such things as improvements to Highway 50, protection of native trees, clean up of contaminated land and groundwater, and keeping 30% of the acreage as open space. O'Farrell called the conditions the "most far reaching conditions this LAFCO has ever imposed."
"We agree with all the conditions," said Storer, adding that it is developers who will have the obligation to comply with the conditions. Storer said the current City Council has not said what kind of development it wants to allow in the new area. An earlier City Council told LAFCO it wanted commercial and industrial development, and open space.
The process stands in contrast to another recent battle in eastern Sacramento County. Last year, developer C.C. Myers placed Measure O on the ballot to bust the county's urban services limit and build the 3,000-home Deer Creek Hills subdivision eight miles south of Highway 50. That measure was opposed by several members of the Folsom City Council and was defeated by a large margin (see CP&DR, December 2000).
Not everyone in Folsom agrees with the southern expansion. A group opposed to the application, called Alliance of Folsom Residents, submitted a petition signed by 600 residents to LAFCO in December, according to the Sacramento Bee. A lack of public school classrooms and a shortage of affordable homes are partial causes of the backlash.
Legal Services of Northern California threatened to sue the city earlier this year, according to Storer. The legal aid group charged that the city has violated state law by failing to ensure an adequate supply of affordable housing in its 1992 general plan. Legal Services also testified in opposition to the proposed sphere of influence application, according to Storer. A Legal Services representative did not return calls from CP&DR.
Although the City Council had taken no action on a proposed emergency ordinance to freeze development applications by mid-March, it appears that the Legal Services' pressure and resulting negotiations have had an impact. The City Council has authorized preparation of a new housing element to be completed a year ahead of schedule.
Recent housing development has not been of the "affordable" variety. The city has been issuing more than 1,000 single-family housing annually. And after issuing no building permits for apartments between 1992 and 1997, the city approved 1,026 high-end apartments in 1999.
Growth is exploding throughout the region at the base of the foothills, Storer noted. Neighboring communities — including unincorporated El Dorado County, and Roseville and Lincoln in Placer County — have boomed in recent years. One reason for the growth is the expansion of high-tech companies such as Intel, which is a major employer in Folsom. The city has also seen tremendous growth of its retail sector in recent years, adding a power center and expanding an outlet center. In addition, the historic Old Town district's quaint antique stores and restaurants also draw tourists. An extension of the county's light rail system to Folsom in 2003 is also expected to draw more visitors and commuters.
All the growth has placed a strain on the city's schools, which are part of the 16,000-student Folsom-Cordova Unified School District. The district covers both the city of Folsom and the neighboring unincorporated community of Rancho Cordova, which has not seen the same rapid growth as Folsom.
The enrollment at schools within Folsom has jumped from 4,928 in 1992 to 7,500 students this year, and is expected to rise to 13,700 in 2014, according to Debbie Bettencourt, deputy superintendent of the district. Classroom space in Folsom is at a premium at elementary schools near new housing developments. Large signs in front of some of the newest elementary schools warn parents that the schools are oversubscribed and their children may not be able to attend those schools if they buy homes nearby, according to John Frith, a six-year Folsom resident who's children have attended local schools. Instead, children are bussed to schools outside their neighborhood.
However, a new elementary school is scheduled to open in August, said Bettencourt. A new high school opened two years ago at a cost of $68 million, but it is already at capacity, and a second high school is planned, she added.
In the past, district-wide bond measures have failed. Several years ago, the two communities began conducting separate bond elections, which were to raise school construction funds for Folsom and to modernize schools in Rancho Cordova.
The last time Folsom passed a school bond was in 1992, Bettencourt said. Last May, Measure M, a $38.4 million school bond measure failed when it fell 74 votes short of the required two-thirds majority. The passage of Proposition 39 last November, which allows school bonds to pass with 55% of the vote, will not help Folsom because the proposition does not cover elections for school facility improvement districts such as the one used in Folsom. Bettencourt said the district is hoping to get corrective legislation passed by state lawmakers this year to allow Folsom-Cordova bonds to win elections with 55% of the vote.
The district is tentatively planning a bond measure for this November, but it would be unaffected by any corrective legislation, according to Bettencourt. The district did away with year-round schooling because the community opposed the schedule; however, the district may have to return to it, she indicated.
John O'Farrell, Sacramento LAFCO executive officer, (916) 874-6474.
David Storer, Folsom planning, inspections and permitting director,
Debbie Bettencourt, Folsom-Cordova Unified School District (916) 355-1100.