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Common sense dictates that the Partisan take a couple weeks off around this time of year in order to avoid becoming trapped in a loop of parochial politics, water and who owns it, income disparity along the Highway 68 corridor and the antics of Howard Gustafson, Paul Bruno, Brandon Gesicki and the Salinas City Council. Even a blog must occasionally clear its head.

But that does not let you, the Partisan readers, off the hook. In fact, it creates extra pressure for you to contribute to this enterprise, which is intended to be a collective endeavor. We here at Partisan central tend to measure the success or failure of individual posts by the number of commenters who chose to weigh in, and we readily admit that the community comments are much more interesting and enlightening than anything we have to say.

So what do you say? What’s on your mind? Many of you place little thought nuggets elsewhere, such as on Facebook. Here’s your chance to expound at considerable or even ridiculous length. I’m talking about you, Larry Parrish, Beverly Bean, Roberto Robledo, Karl Pallastrini, Roger Dahl. I’m talking about you, Eric Peterson, Craig Malin, Joy Colangelo, Amy White. Helga Fellay and David Fairhurst, you’re excused from this exercise. You, too, could use a break.

Here’s what the Partisan’s chief cook and bottle washer looks like when he is not poring over the latest grand jury report

To get the party started, a few prompts:

  • Has the initial flurry of anti-Trump activism locally just become quiet or has it died. Can it be revived? Would it do any good?
  • Where is the best pizza in Monterey County?
  • If you live on the Peninsula, what do you think of Salinas? If you are a racist, you’re disqualified from this one.
  • If you live in the Salinas Valley, what do you think of the Peninsula?
  • What can we do to house the homeless?

If you could force local government to fix one thing, what would it be?

OK, by now, you’ve got some ideas of your own. Feel encouraged to share,

Many of you will have ideas of your own. Please feel encouraged to share.

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AMY WHITE: On leaving Havana

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img_2719-jpgThe airport surprised me in its efficiency and cleanliness. We had an hour before our flight so I went to the bar to enjoy a rum and not enjoy a cheese sandwich. The cheese sandwich was definitely my worst meal on the trip. The rum was fantastic. I knew it would be my last in Cuba, and I felt nostalgic but ready to leave. My best friend Hunter Harvath and I decided to spend Thanksgiving in Cuba. I arrived home yesterday, and I’m now realizing what an overwhelming trip I just experienced.

img_2737-jpgA gentleman at the airport bar nervously inquired my country of citizenship. We began to chat, as is common with Cubans, only this conversation was different than those I’d had before. The man wore a McCain Palin / 2008 sweatshirt, and it was amusing to tell him who they are. Our chatting was friendly enough, but his shifty eyes and skittish movements alarmed me. After the usual niceties, he revealed his travel plans: abandon Cuba for Venezuela to search for work, maybe in construction or tourism. He said he has $300 in his shoes and no plan for when he arrives. I was immediately ashamed of my narcissistic rendering of travels through his country, a nation that he feels has so few opportunities that he’s going to Venezuela, a nation of political turmoil, staggering inflation, and debilitating food shortages. It wasn’t my limited Spanish that prevented my understanding of his situation, but rather my privileged lens that limits my ability to relate. Despite my overwhelming compassion for this man, I had to force myself to continue talking as my discomfort about these realities were difficult to digest.

Cubans are transparent in their feelings, and surprisingly open with discussing their government. I did not seek out political discussions, however when I said I was from the United States, our president-elect became the topic de jour. And these conversations propelled me to wonder: “What is the United States’s responsibility to the world?” With the opening up of Cuban relations, will the U.S. begin to send aid here? Our president-elect spoke often of ending our massive support to foreign countries, and while I did not cast my vote for Trump, his stance on foreign aid appealed to me a little.

U.S. Americans (note – I identify the “U.S.” because during my travels in Panama in 2002, I replied that my citizenship is American to a Panamanian woman. She looked disgusted that I failed to realize that she too is an American, as is everyone living in North and South America) are known for believing in the luck of birth. If you’re lucky enough to be born in the United States and maybe even with the privilege of wealth, good for you. You’ve been blessed. There’s no assumption to share.

But what is our responsibility? I struggle with all aid to foreign countries from the United States because I’m frustrated with our crumbling schools and terrible infrastructure. But then I wonder if our nation’s wealth was managed better, would we have enough for our great country and aid to others? I’m not informed enough to make that call.

I began writing this piece as a humorous tale of Hunter and my travels through Cuba. I have hilarious and unbelievable tales to tell: the music and dancing; the language misunderstandings; the missed flight to Canada that took us to Mexico… I’ll save those for my journal because as I began to type, I learned that Fidel Castro died. I am stunned. What will happen to all the protest billboards claiming the “U.S. embargo is genocide” or the one claiming “socialism or death”? Will the political indoctrination change? Will the oppression and the hidden poverty continue? I say hidden because most travelers only see the charm of Havana and the stunning beaches along the coast.

My last evening in Havana was spent at a restaurant filled with locals. I spoke with a man named Peter whose English was perfect and passions were intense. He wanted to talk politics, so much so that I suggested we leave for a table outside on the street. He wasn’t nervous, but I was. His sons are in Miami, and his parents are in Italy. He has successful businesses in Havana but complained that he can’t purchase a car. He explained that if he presents money for the purchase, the government will demand business records and then demand high taxes on every peso he has, preventing any accumulation of wealth or “luxury” items. He became so animated as he told me of country clubs and 10 bedroom homes and private beaches and brand new Audis for government officials, all while he spends his business profits on food for his elderly neighbors and what little comforts he can obtain without attracting the government’s attention. I noticed his gold watch and impeccable clothes. I also noticed the very elderly woman working as the bar’s bathroom attendant who was napping on duty at 1am. As if on cue, a disabled man arrived to our table selling peanuts. Peter gave him a fistful of bills and refused the nuts.

Amy White formerly headed LandWatch Monterey County.

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Amy White says goodbye to LandWatch Monterey County

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Amy White

Breaking news today from LandWatch Monterey County. Executive Director Amy White is stepping down after eight years.

Here’s the news release from the organization.

The Partisan had an inkling of this a couple weeks ago but couldn’t get Amy to give it up. She has done a remarkable job at the helm of this hugely important organization, a pressure-cooker job that requires the ability to work with bureaucrats, politicians, developers and environmental progressives – none of them a piece of cake.

She’s going back to teaching, which is good news for a generation of school kids.

More on this development later.

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Are both District 4 supervisorial candidates really for “smart growth?”

Most of us have a hard time envisioning 15,000 acres because we don’t deal with properties of that size. This should help. The existing Fort Ord National Monument is about 15,000 acres. The fort itself was about twice that size during its heyday. Toro Regional Park between Monterey and Salinas stretches deeper into the hills than you’d expect but still covers only 5,000 acres or so. It would take three Toros to equal 15,000 acres.

Remember the Rancho San Juan proposal? That was one of the big land-use controversies of the last decade. The Rancho San Juan community north of Salinas would have been huge but it would have taken seven of them to cover 15,000 acres.

Need something smaller? Maybe you’ve been to Spreckels, the cute community near Salinas. Set 200 of them side by side and you’d have 15,000 acres.

We’re talking about 15,000 acres here because that’s the amount of good farmland that would be turned over to development purposes under the proposed Economic Development Element to the Salinas General Plan. No, it wouldn’t be developed all at once, of course. It would happen in dribs and drabs, so most of the work wouldn’t set off any Rancho San Juan-style controversies.

Much of that development would be to the southwest and southeast of current Salinas city limits. Significantly, it would spread the city south beyond Blanco Road, which traditionally has been viewed as the firm and final dividing line between urban and ag.

We’re talking about that 15,000 acres now because it is a factor in the current political campaign between Monterey County Supervisor Jane Parker and challenger Dennis Donohue, the former mayor of Salinas. It is a factor, an important factor even, though it has not yet risen to the status of a public campaign issue. That’s because Parker is a quiet sort, not one to shout about things, and Donohue maybe isn’t sure how to play it.

According to a handful of knowledgeable observers, including Supervisor Dave Potter, Donohue’s support for the Economic Development Element is a key reason that former Supervisor Lou Calcagno chose to endorse environmentalist Parker over agriculturalist Donohue in the June contest. It was a big deal, that endorsement.

Calcagno was a major force on the board, often the swing vote. And though he is something of an environmentalist, he was better known as a champion of both agriculture and development, as incompatible as those two industries might seem. What some folks don’t know about Calcagno, however, is that he is a fierce champion of preserving farm land. That’s why he has been active for years now with the Ag Land Trust, which helps provide tax advantages for farmers who agree to easements protecting their land from commercial or residential development.

Anyone who didn’t know about Calcagno’s position on farmland or the Economic Development Element must have been surprised to hear of his endorsement of Parker. By the way, did I mention that some of the 15,000 acres slated for development is currently covered by Ag Land Trusts?

SalinasEDE-LUmap

This map details the Economic Development Element of the Salinas General Plan. I do now know why it isn’t more clear. For a better version, click on the LandWatch link below.

So is Donohue really supporting the Economic Development Element, which still faces an environmental impact review before it will be eagerly adopted by the growth-minded Salinas City Council? He says he hasn’t really made up his mind.

“I could not begin to offer an opinion on the reasons behind why Lou endorsed my opponent because he never spoke to me about my candidacy,” Donohue said via email. “Additionally, to comment on the expansion of South Salinas would be completely irresponsible as I have yet to see any plans, formal or otherwise and to offer an opinion would be pure speculation.

“What I can definitively say, is that as the three-term mayor of Salinas and candidate for District 4 supervisor, I am in complete support of the revitalization of Oldtown Salinas, and feel our efforts should be focused on what we can accomplish in the near term.”

I had told Donohue in an email of my own that others believed that he is squarely behind the 15,000-acre plan but he didn’t address that point. He says he hasn’t seen any plans, formal or otherwise, yet the Economic Development Element has been around since 2014, has been unanimously approved by the Salinas City Council and has been the subject of at least one article in the Monterey County Weekly.

To be clear, the Economic Development Element proposes much more than merely gobbling up farmland. It pushes the concept of Salinas as a key player in the intersection of ag and technology, something Donohue had pushed hard during his tenure as mayor. It would provide space for industrial uses and promote significant highway construction and traffic reconfiguration, ending the near gridlock conditions that sometimes occur in and near the ag-related industrial zone near the airport. I figure the promise of change there is a big part of why big ag is supporting Donohue in a big way, campaign contributionwise.

The Economic Development Element makes no secret of its intentions. Its south-of-Blanco ambitions are spelled out in maps and its underlying intent is delineated here:“Lack of available vacant land within city limits and within the city’s sphere of influence is a key constraint to economic development.”

So you might be asking what this has to do with the Board of Supervisors? Good question.

The county comes into the equation at several levels. First, the county government is well-represented at LAFCO. That’s the agency that determines when cities can annex property or even widen what is known as their spheres of influence, the area of probable expansion. A Board of Supervisors that includes Donohue rather than Parker would be a Board of Supervisors more likely to support the annexation effort.

Urban boundaries also represent agreements between the cities and the county because the lines affect the provision of constituent services and the collection of taxes. The city of Salinas would find it easier to negotiate with a board that includes Donohue instead of a board that includes Parker.

For her part, Parker doesn’t have a lot to say. She’s like that. She has done little so far to trumpet Calcagno’s endorsement. She offered only a short take on the subject.

“As you know, I support smart growth and the preservation of farmland — both of which contribute to our economic vitality.  My understanding is that extending the city limits south of Blanco could violate an agreement between the city and county.  Right now, it’s important to focus on the economic vitality of downtown Salinas.”

Oh, by the way, LandWatch Monterey County has already had something to say about the Economic Development Element. Among other things, it has argued in letters to the city that considerable vacant and underutilized property now exists within city limits, that thousands of acres designated for residential development to the north and east of the city remains open and that development on the fringes of a city tends to discourage healthier and more efficient infill development.

LandWatch’s Amy White also makes a key point about water. Supporters of the Economic Development Element argue that industrial development generally does not require more water than the previous agricultural use. White counters that taking farmland out of production often results in cultivation of rangeland and other untilled acreage, resulting in a net increase in water use, a huge factor in the Salinas Valley.

So, it’s complicated, as you probably have concluded from the length and meandering nature of this missive. That’s partly why, as important as it is, you probably won’t be reading about the issue until well after the election, at which point it may be too late to do anything about it, depending on who wins.

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The Monterey County Board of Supervisors’ 3-to-2 decision approving the Harper Canyon project is irresponsible. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that we do NOT have the water NOR do we have the traffic capacity on Highway 68 to support this development. Dave Potter and Jane Parker, the supervisors who voted against this project, made these points very clearly during the discussion before the vote. The staff report recommending approval of the project was truly egregious, because it ignores the most important information from the environmental analysis and makes false arguments that are not supported by the facts.

WATER

The final EIR makes clear (based on the most recent and definitive study of the water basin) that the Corral de Tierra sub-basin is in serious overdraft, with groundwater levels declining over a foot per year for decades to come. That study projects that groundwater levels will continue to decline as more building permits for existing lots of record are issued, harming existing well owners who will have to drill deeper wells to reach the water. Contrary to the county’s findings, the Geosyntec study does not identify any benefit to the Corral de Tierra sub-basin from the Salinas Valley Water Project (SVWP).

This last point is critical. The approving supervisors said that because the SVWP will solve all the Salinas Valley Basin’s problems, this subdivision should be approved. It was the same argument used for approving the Ferrini Ranch subdivision. The truth is, the SVWP was never intended to solve all the basin’s problems but rather help slow saltwater intrusion into the basin. Saltwater intrusion is still marching south towards Salinas. Relying on the SVWP is absurd and frankly dishonest.

All of the recent studies (Geoscience 2013, Brown and Caldwell 2015), the Monterey County Water Resources Agency staff, and the county’s own findings in the Ferrini Ranch project establish that the Salinas Valley Water Project will not restore groundwater elevations in the valley and that additional groundwater management projects are required.  The necessary projects have not been environmentally reviewed, approved, or funded.  None of this is disclosed in the Harper Canyon EIR or the county’s findings for the Harper Canyon project.  It is unreasonable and contrary to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to claim that the landowner’s payments toward an ineffective project is sufficient mitigation.  Despite this, the final EIR claims that the Harper Canyon project will not aggravate cumulative impacts to the Corral de Tierra sub-basin, citing the Salinas Valley Water Project panacea.

FINAL Ferrini Ranch and Harper Canyon centered

Even if the SVWP were effective in restoring groundwater levels in the adjacent Salinas Valley Groundwater Basin, neither the EIR nor any other substantive evidence in the record explains how the SVWP could restore groundwater levels in the up-gradient Corral de Tierra sub-basin. The only expert hydrological testimony in the record on this point explains that the Corral de Tierra sub-basin groundwater flows down into the Pressure Sub-basin, so it is a source of recharge  to the Valley, not a potential beneficiary of Valley groundwater flows.

The supervisors also apparently relied on a 72-hour pumping capacity test to conclude that there is a long-term sustainable water supply.  This test established only that the project wells are currently able to pump water.  The test cannot establish any conclusion about long-term cumulative impacts to the Corral de Tierra sub-basin, and in fact it revealed that groundwater levels have declined 20 feet at the project site in the last 15 years.

Even though the environmental analysis was incomplete and misleading, it is still quite clear that we do not have the water for this project. As the Planning Commission correctly determined, approval of the Harper Canyon project is inconsistent with the 1982 general plan policies that call for protecting a sustainable water supply for all users.

TRAFFIC

The EIR admits that the project will cause significant and unavoidable impacts to five of the eight Highway 68 intersections and segments analyzed under 2015 conditions.  LandWatch’s comments pointed out that this violates the 1982 general plan policies banning approval of projects without adequate traffic facilities.  At the final hearing, after the close of public comment, a Public Works staff member claimed that the payment of impact fees to address other traffic impacts would somehow ensure general plan consistency, despite these admitted unavoidable and significant impacts. We cannot understand how the county can find a project consistent with its general plan traffic policies, which bar approval of projects where there is insufficient traffic capacity, at the same time that its CEQA document admits unavoidably significant traffic impacts due to lack of traffic capacity. Both the Ferrini findings and the draft Harper Canyon findings finesse this issue by simply omitting any findings about general plan traffic policies.

Furthermore, the EIR’s admission of the scope of traffic impacts is incomplete. The EIR relies on illusory mitigation and thus fails to disclose that the project will in fact cause significant and unavoidable impacts to all eight of the Highway 68 intersections and segments evaluated under both 2015 conditions and 2030 conditions.  The EIR concludes that payment of TAMC impact fees toward the Highway 68 Commuter Improvements project will somehow mitigate year 2015 impacts to three intersections and segments; however, the Highway 68 Commuter Improvements project is not funded and not scheduled before 2035. The EIR also concludes that payment of impact fees will mitigate all year 2030 impacts to the Highway 68 intersections and segments.  However, as the Harper Canyon EIR admits, and as the 2010 general plan EIR and TAMC have both concluded, the necessary improvements to Highway 68 to restore adequate service are simply not feasible financially.  The contention that future impact fees will somehow mitigate a traffic problem that the county admits cannot be solved violates CEQA and strains credulity.

Indeed, the traffic impact story became even more absurd at the final hearing.  In response to LandWatch’s comments that the CEQA analysis was invalid because it rested on illusory mitigation, Public Works staff told the supervisors that the EIR does admit that cumulative traffic impacts are significant and unavoidable, citing pages from the draft EIR.  What staff did not explain was that this admission was stricken from the revised draft EIR and the final EIR, which both claimed that all 2030 traffic impacts would be adequately mitigated. This revised conclusion that all 2030 traffic impacts would be mitigated by impact fees, even while admitting that the needed improvements are not actually feasible, was identical to the conclusion in the Ferrini Ranch EIR, which used the same traffic consultants. Either Public Works did not get the revised conclusion, or they did not believe it.

In conclusion, the mistakes and misinterpretations of the environmental review for this project violate the California Environmental Quality Act. Successful litigation can force county government to redo the environmental analysis so that it is honest, complete and complies with the full public process required by the law. CEQA is based on the assumption that a full and honest review of environmental impacts, which are open to a full public process, will encourage elected officials to act responsibly. The track record of the Monterey County Board of Supervisors does not bode well for responsible land-use decisions. But the Supervisors may very well get the opportunity to vote again on this project after the courts force them to redo the environmental review. We hope that the electorate encourages those members of the Board who voted for this project the first time to vote more responsibly the next time round.

Amy L. White is executive director of LandWatch Monterey County.

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