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A 31-unit subdivision proposal going before the Monterey County Planning Commission this week carries a sizable load of controversies. The lots are too small, the location is too rural, the neighbors don’t like the idea at all and the county would have to bend various planning rules to make it work. There are water and traffic issues and more.

The property is along Val Verde Avenue on a pretty stretch of farmland just east of the Crossroads shopping center. The neighbors have hired lawyer Molly Erickson to combat the proposal and she has responded with considerable evidence of the project’s inadvisability. (Click the link for Erickson’s letter to the county planners in advance of Wednesday’s public hearing on the project. The county staff, by the way, recommends approval, largely because the project would add some units of affordable housing albeit on substandard lots)

But what is unusually interesting about this venture is the ownership. The property owner and applicant is  Carmel Rio Road LLC, a limited partnership headed by Ray Wirta, who is the CEO of international real estate giant CBRE and president of the Irvine Company, the real estate behemoth that made Orange County what it is today.

The names of CBRE and the Irvine Company don’t’ show up in the thick county file on the project, which, in slightly larger form, was turned down by the Monterey County Board of Supervisors in 2012. But Wirta’s name on the application creates speculation that it may represent an unlikely attempt by the Irvine Company to dip a toe into Monterey County’s development waters to find out how accommodating they may be to Irvine Company-style mega development.

A call to Wirta’s office in Orange County went unreturned Monday, but the project’s local representative, Brian Clark of Sand City, answered a few questions about the venture. He said Wirta’s involvement is simply that of an owner  and that it amounts to a personal investment unrelated to the Irvine Company. Clark, who is in the loan business, said he has known Wirta for 30 years and persuaded him to invest. When the venture went before the county five years ago, noted Big Sur builder Bill Mcleod of Post Ranch fame was listed as a partner and he remains involved in some capacity.

The Central Coast would not seem to be fertile ground for an operation as big and aggressive as the Irvine Company, but land anywhere near the California coast has proved to be an irresistible investment lure for those who prefer subdivisions to sand dunes.

Raymond Wirta

The Irvine Company practically invented Orange County, which grew from 220 residents in 1950 to more than 700,000 in 1960. Worth more than $15 billion, the Irvine Company’s principal owner, Donald Bren, is the nation’s richest real estate investor. According to Forbes, he owns 57,000 apartment units, mostly in California, along with 500 office buildings and more than 40 shopping centers, including the sprawling Fashion Island in Newport Beach. From its Orange County base, the Irvine Company has expanded into major real estate markets across the country, including Silicon Valley in the past couple of years.

Unlike Donald Bren, whose name has been attached to numerous of his ventures and philanthropies, Wirta is largely unknown outside real estate circles – but he is a giant within them.

For the last several years he has simultaneously been CEO of CBRE, the world’s largest real estate investment conglomerate, CEO of The Koll Company and managing partner of at least two other real estate enterprises. At the same time, he is president of investment properties for the Irvine Company. He previously served as CEO of the Bolsa Chica Company, which for decades pursued one of the the most controversial real estate ventures in California history. Several years ago, he formed an entity known as Rich Uncles REIT to solicit small investors into the real estate investment trust market.

LandWatch Monterey County and the Carmel Valley Association also have written letters of opposition to the project.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Helga Fellay May 8, 2017, 4:06 pm

    Only two short comments. 1. The proposed development is NOT in Carmel Valley, but in unincorporated Carmel, zip 93923. (incorporated Carmel-by-the-Sea is one square mile, zip 93921). Unincorporated Carmel’s eastern boundary, and Carmel Valley’s western boundary is at the Mid Valley shopping center. East from there is unincorporated Carmel Valley, zip 93924, with its eastern boundary near 101.
    #2. Val Verde is the one and only place left for additional local housing south of Monterey, affordable or otherwise. All other potential projects would have to be expanding north of Marina, or East through the former Ft. Ord. This has nothing to do with the merit of the proposal, just defining locations and boundaries. The title is misleading.

    • Richard Stott May 8, 2017, 4:23 pm

      Helga is incorrect. The proposed development is within the Carmel Valley Master plan area. 93923 extends from the Carmel City line to mid valley. The proposed development is on one of the few agricultural lands (currently and organic farm) left in the lower valley.

      • Helga Fellay May 8, 2017, 5:07 pm

        I said nothing about any Master plan. Houses on Val Verde would have a post office address of Carmel, CA 93923 [NOT Carmel Valley, CA 93924] Calling it a “Carmel Valley housing project” is misleading.

        • Richard Stott May 8, 2017, 5:58 pm

          Years ago, when we lived just off the Grade, I used to snobbishly state that Carmel Valley began at the Farm Center, where the fog usually quit. Now that I live in the lower valley, I maintain that if you have hills to the north and south, and a river between, you are in the valley. And that’s how the County defines it. The post office is in Washington, and what do they know.

    • Louis MacFarland May 8, 2017, 4:49 pm

      Helga just described Carmel Valley per the postal service, not Monterey County, it is all unincorporated county, though can have specific plans for subset areas of CV.

      I assume Val Verde is a private road, so could trigger issues related to that, would be pretty cavalier of the county to assume they could greatly intensify use of a shared private road.

    • Eric Sand May 10, 2017, 1:14 pm

      My grandparents, my parents and I and my family have always referred to that area east of Hwy 1 as being in the “Carmel Valley” and this recognition has been for over 100 years….

  • James Toy May 8, 2017, 6:01 pm

    In the local jargon, the area in question is typically referred to as the “mouth of the valley.” Technically and geographically it is the westernmost part of Carmel Valley.

  • Natalie Gray May 8, 2017, 6:26 pm

    Whether it is the valley, upper valley, or Carmel’s neighbor, it is a bad development and a bad precedent. We don’t want those kinds of developments in Monterey. Fort Ord is bad enough, with its Dunes and Beach “resorts.”

  • Jean May 8, 2017, 7:46 pm

    I noticed the comment in Molly Erickson’s letter about the project being “deeply disrespectful” of the prospective tenants of inclusionary housing. How often does one read anything associated with character these days?

    I checked the lay-out of the market-rate lots and the inclusionary housing, and something is very wrong. Inclusionary units are not only packed into less space (no surprise there), but they share it with wells and water treatment. Does the developer really think that the inclusionary housing won’t affect the market rate lots? Or doesn’t he care? Or will the inclusionary housing have landscaping to hide it from the rest of the development?

    Huge contrast to a recently proposed annexation and residential development in a Southern California city where one LAFCO member refused to approve because the inclusionary housing was located next to a sewage treatment plant and noisy commercial operations. She said it was reprehensible to develop like that.

    Monterey County seems to rarely allocate the time and resources to do a project right, but they always seem to find the time and resources to do it over.

  • Karl Pallastrini May 9, 2017, 6:01 pm

    A development of that size would have a serious impact on the Carmel Unified School District. Another High School, Middle School and Elementary School would have to be built. Who would pay for the new schools? That property next to Carmel Middle School has been in a state of flux for many years. With Rancho Canada and now September Ranch impacting the roads, school system and infrastructure, with housing projects, why would anyone in their right mind approve another project of this kind? Regardless of Brian McLeod’s claim that this venture is independent of his holdings and partners, it remains a disaster in the making.

  • bill leone May 9, 2017, 9:38 pm

    I’m sure Major Dick is also in favor of this monstrous real estate development project.

  • Jimguy May 10, 2017, 6:40 pm

    There comin for ya, Monterey.

  • bill leone May 10, 2017, 8:24 pm

    THEY’RE coming for every small patch of land they can get their hands on, here there & everywhere.

  • Karl Pallastrini May 12, 2017, 7:20 pm

    Amen to Bill’s post. So true. The Goose that laid the Golden Egg is getting killed in the process. It is only pristine and natural…..once.

  • bill hood May 14, 2017, 2:11 pm

    Lessee – Monterey County Geography 101 -exactly where is “Carmel Valley”? I don’t think it’s defined by zip codes. I once lived on Carmel Point (in the county) but my address was Carmel 93921 (later to become 93923 only because a newer post office was built at the mouth of “the Valley”; we have a close friend who lives not far from the County offices (in the county) and his address is Monterey 93940. To make matters more confusing, I have a home in Upper Arlington OH, but my address is Columbus 43221.
    Do signs define the Valley? As I recall, shortly after turning onto the Carmel Valley Road from Route 1, even before you come to the Middle School, there is a sign that says “Entering Carmel Valley”.
    Is there a county General Plan that defines on a map or even metes and bounds as to what exists as “Carmel Valley”? I haven’t looked, but suspect it isn’t there.
    Seems to me James Toy has the simplest and probably most accurate definition – it starts at some undefined location in the western end of a valley called Carmel Valley. A big issue, to be sure.

    • john moore May 18, 2017, 10:42 am

      “Metes and Bounds” sort of overtook the meat of Royal’s post, which is the legality and reasonableness of the project.
      At this point in time, it should be clear that all new residential development leads to a lower quality of life in Ca. More traffic, less water, more police, carbon, etc.. Recycling our own sewage should be a signal.
      In my lifetime, the world population has grown from about 1.8B to about 7.4B and grows at about 80M a year. The growth is the major cause of global warming, but in my view, development in Ca. is the primary reason that it has trended from the near-best in 1955 to the bottom in 2017 and is on a continuing decline. New housing has become more chicken-crate-like. The governor just said that we are headed for seventy million Californians by 2050
      Every government agency, federal, state and local is burdened with debt, yet no emergency has been declared.
      “We need more housing” is a sick joke that simply leads to a lower quality of life and more poverty. What the world needs is some discipline about over-breeding. The Pope has been the sole leader of that path.

  • bill leone May 20, 2017, 10:17 am

    Yes, exponential population growth is at the heart of most of our problems.
    And the one factor, in any nation, that is the most highly correlated with zero or negative population growth is…..the percentage of Educated Women; this is true even in countries that are over 90% Catholic.