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Guest Opinion: Why I started caring about local government in Citrus Heights

Guest opinion column submitted by Citrus Heights resident Michael Bullington–
In our brief 21 years of cityhood, Citrus Heights has established itself as one of the most financially robust cities in the nation with a police force that may be second to none, but I was no more than a spectator during most of this period.

Michael Bullington
Michael Bullington

However, that changed in 2014, when the City’s Planning Division rolled out the Creek Corridor Trail Project (CCTP) at a community meeting in January of that year. It was to become a defining moment in the City’s history, and it helped familiarize me with all three of the incumbents running to continue serving on the City Council.

The CCTP proposed to build 16 miles of asphalt bike trails through residential areas that were already developed, crisscrossing Arcade, Cripple and Brooktree Creeks with an astounding total of 39 bridges. Detailed plans for each of the 11 areas in Citrus Heights were displayed on individual tables in the then-new Community Center. The consultants who helped develop the plans, as well as officials from the City, were on hand to answer questions.

The extensive environmental reports were completed. The grants to fund tens of millions of dollars were in place. And the cost to the city would be minimal, we were told. All that seemed to be needed was the approval of the residents.

The Planning Division was in for a big surprise.

The homeowners saw the CCTP as an attempt to exercise eminent domain and take advantage of liens adjacent to homes on the creeks. The threat to home values and the aesthetic enjoyment of their properties was menacing. The first meeting devolved into shouting and catcalls, as City officials reeled in shock.

Opposition was so strident, that in the next meeting before the Planning Commission on Feb. 12, the Police Department had officers stationed in each corner of the Council Chamber as a deterrent to civil unrest.

Opposition peaked in the final Planning Commission meeting on March 12 with an energized crowd of more than 400 people that flowed outside of the old Chamber facility at Fountain Square. It became evident that the longer the meetings continued, the greater the crowds were becoming.

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Nevertheless, despite overwhelming opposition to the project, a favorable outcome for the residents was still in doubt. I know, because I was there as one of the two organizers of the effort to defeat the project.

Our home became the starting point for tours of the affected areas, so that City officials, the Planning Commission and the Council could observe the project’s impact firsthand. All the Council members, most of the planning commissioners and two of the Planning Division staff toured the creek areas.

Everyone but the Planning Division would later act in favor of the residents.

I got a chance to interact with and know the key people. As I talked with Council members and Planning Commissioners, I became more and more confident that the residents would succeed. Indeed, we did, under Chairman Al Fox’s leadership of the Planning Commission, as it voted 6-0 to remove the affected residents from the short list for implementation of the project.

Chairman Fox stood up for me and the other residents, and he has my undying support.

Two months later, in May, the City Council confirmed the Planning Commission’s recommendation with a unanimous 5-0 vote. Among those voting were then-Mayor Steve Miller and Council Member Jeannie Bruins, along with Al Fox, all of whom are incumbents in this year’s City Council race.

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It was my first experience at involvement in governmental affairs, an area where I am still reluctant to engage. It became evident that I am not a politician, but then neither was Paul Revere. But along the way I did participate and got to see firsthand how a City works – how OUR City works! How it has come to be the envy of municipalities throughout the State and even the country.

Despite the contentious nature of the CCTP experience, I saw good people surface in my neighborhood and, in my government. Three of them are running to continue insuring the prosperity that we’ve enjoyed throughout our City’s history. I hope that we voters will insure that they continue to have the opportunity.

Michael Bullington is a 34-year resident of Citrus Heights and a 39-year student of history.

The Sentinel welcomes guest opinion columns on local issues from Citrus Heights residents. To submit an article for publication, click here.

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