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In a state where rolling golden hills and aged oaks are steadily disappearing, the approved Ferrini Ranch development along Highway 68 eviscerates this pristine and quintessentially Californian image. Yet despite significant environmental impacts to water, traffic and views in direct conflict with its general plan, Monterey County not only approved the project but also completely ignored the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

CEQA requires that the county deny a project where there is feasible mitigation that would avoid or substantially lessen significant environmental impacts. If an impact cannot be mitigated, CEQA requires that the county disclose that fact. Additionally, CEQA requires that the county prepare, circulate for review, and respond to comments on a legally adequate Environmental Impact Report (EIR). These steps are crucial to ensuring informed public participation in the approval process and accountable decision-making.

In approving the Ferrini Ranch development, the county failed to comply with these mandates.

The Ferrini Ranch approval relied on incomplete mitigation through water and traffic management projects that will never occur. It also failed to disclose that impacts would not, in fact, be mitigated.

The Ferrini Ranch project raises serious water concerns, and these issues were not clearly disclosed or addressed during the approval process. The draft EIR failed to make known significant cumulative water impacts because it relied on the county’s all-purpose panacea for water impacts, the Salinas Valley Water Project. Despite LandWatch’s demonstration that the Salinas Valley Water Project is no longer expected to solve the problem, the EIR stonewalled, refusing to acknowledge the impact.

Only after the EIR was complete did the county admit the Salinas Valley Water Project will not stop seawater intrusion and that additional water management projects are needed. But the EIR failed to disclose that the water impacts remain unmitigated because the needed groundwater management projects have not been approved, funded or environmentally reviewed. And despite the incomplete mitigation, the county told the public that the water impacts would be mitigated by the project’s assessments for the Salinas Valley Water Project.

It is indisputable that Monterey County has serious seawater intrusion and overdraft problems.

The county cannot make these problems go away by ignoring them, as it did in the EIR, or by simply assuming a solution, as it did in approving the project. Where approval of a project is based on an inaccurate EIR and denial of reality, California law demands that the decision not stand.

The county’s treatment of the project’s impact on Highway 68 traffic was similar. As in its water analysis, the EIR proposes that the project fund its share of a partial solution and call it a day. Even if the applicant builds a one-mile widening of Highway 68, that is inadequate mitigation under CEQA. The applicant will be reimbursed for whatever it spends over its “fair share” for this mile of pavement, but it will make no fair share contribution to the remaining needed Highway 68 expansion, which is unbudgeted, unfunded and unplanned. This is akin to offering someone a bicycle frame with no tires. Without tires, the frame isn’t a transportation solution, but merely a disheartening reminder of one’s inability to travel anywhere.

The county has acknowledged that the Highway 68 traffic problem is unsolvable. It follows that the proposed solution of funding a partial expansion of Highway 68 will not solve the traffic problem. Rather, it will serve as a disheartening reminder that, despite the acknowledged existence of a severe traffic problem, the county approved a development that exacerbates the problem. Such actions do not comply with CEQA, nor do they constitute sound land-use policy.

Finally, the county, again ignoring CEQA, decided that the development’s impacts on views were either nonexistent or negligible despite obvious risks to Highway 68’s designation as a California Scenic Highway and obvious impacts to hikers in the Fort Ord National Monument and Toro Regional Park, who will be forced to view 185 large new houses where there are now rolling hills. In this case, the draft EIR claimed that all visual impacts were mitigated, based on inaccurate photo simulations and mapping created by the applicant and on zoning provisions that will not actually apply to the project.

When LandWatch questioned the adequacy of this analysis, the final EIR again stonewalled. Again, only after the EIR process was complete did the county admit that there were, in fact, numerous errors in the analysis.

Staff scrambled to redesign the project, admitting that the EIR‘s project description had become “obsolete.” The ensuing back and forth of chaotic and conflicting staff reports forced the Planning Commission to approve a subdivision without even knowing where the lots would be.

And some visual impacts were never evaluated because lots will be relocated in the future and because the visual impacts of a mile of new freeway and a new intersection were never evaluated.

Informed decision-making is at the heart of CEQA. A government body cannot make an informed decision, and the public cannot weigh in on that decision, if the information on which the EIR is based changes or is incomplete. In short, the county’s visual impact analysis violated CEQA by taking a wait-and-not-see approach.

The approval of Ferrini Ranch demonstrates the county’s willingness to ignore CEQA’s mandates in order to dispose of community assets – water, views, and ease of travel – for short-term gain. The proposed mitigation for Ferrini Ranch is inadequate under CEQA. The EIR process failed to provide the public with required information and an opportunity for informed comments and responses.

The county abused the CEQA process by conducting its environmental analysis on the fly after the EIR was finalized based on a changing project and a changing description of the environmental circumstances.

If the courts condone such actions and allow the project approval to stand, what prevents the county from making other baseless approvals in the future? Either CEQA means something, or it does not. The county seems to think it does not. It is now up to the courts to protect the public’s interest by informing the county that, in fact, CEQA matters.

This piece was co-authored by Laura C. Davis and originally appeared in the Salinas Californian. DeLapa is executive director and a founder of LandWatch Monterey County. He holds multiple degrees from Stanford University. Davis is a volunteer with LandWatch Monterey County and an attorney. She holds degrees from Stanford University, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, and Santa Clara University School of Law.

????I want to congratulate the Carmel Pine Cone on being the latest victim to obtain a Cal Am press release and print it in a newspaper as journalism: “Slant Well Salinity not There Yet” but …”it’s moving in the right direction, Cal Am says,” on Page 1 of Friday’s edition. Perhaps this pronouncement could have generated a couple of piercing questions from the newspaper. Since that did not happen, let us discuss what was reported.

1. “The Company said Thursday that the facility (slant well) has completed an important five day continuous operation of the well, with promising results.” Response: The initial operation testing is a CEQA requirement, with immediate reporting to parties required.

2. “At one of the monitoring wells, Cal Am said the drop in groundwater levels and salinity changes (due to the pumping of 2,000 gallons per minute) were much better than limits set by the California Coastal Commission.” Response: Swell, what is the reduction and salinity changes at the other six monitoring wells?

3. “The salinity of the water from the test well itself increased from 23,000 parts before the test to 26,000 parts at the conclusion of the 5 day test.” Response: 23,000 ppm is 65.71% seawater, or 34.29% fresh water. At 26,000 the numbers are 74.28% and 25.71%. This is a far cry from 4%, but ask yourself how does the water composition change by 3,000 in a five day test? Seawater intrusion, remember this is an unconfined aquifer.

4. “Given the large volume of water located within the shallow dunes sand and relatively small pump volume,” Cal Am reported that “these two trends are very positive and indicate that ocean water is moving toward the well.” Response: And fresh water is being evacuated from the aquifer, and pumped directly back into the ocean in violation of state law and the Beneficial Use rules of the California Water Code.

I am sure it is possible to read this article in a positive light and ignore the Cal Am spin, but the statements against self interest, in this article, in their water rights lawsuits have to make their attorneys cringe. Cal Am has consistently said it will draw primarily seawater and that any take of fresh water would be incidental. Let me put the 2 year “take” Cal Am proposes into mathematical perspective.

1. 2,000 gallons per minutes equal 2,880,000 gallons per day. That is equal to 8.32 acre feet per day. Five days of testing equals 41.6 acre feet for the CEQA test. Of that 41.6 acre feet, approximately 30% (split the diff. 23K v 26K) is fresh water, or 12.48 acre feet.

2. Now let’s run the test for the first year: 1,051,200,000 gallons of water, or 3,038.15 acre-feet of water, that will be pumped into one pipe and blown back out into the ocean in another pipe, with no beneficial use. Assuming the 30% fresh ratio, that is 911.45 acre-feet of fresh water wasted. These numbers may be low because Cal Am has been permitted and is allowed to pump 4,000 acre-feet per year for 2 years, so they may increase the pump rate, but we need to ask them.

3. Second year: Assume same numbers, another 3,038.15 acre-feet of water, and another 911.45 acre-feet of fresh water.

4. Combining the two years gives us 6,076.3 acre feet of water pumped, of which 1,822,900 is Salinas Valley fresh water that has simply been illegally extracted from an overdrafted basin by increasing seawater intrusion.

Now let’s politically put these numbers into perspective. Recently two land-use decisions were made by the Board of Supervisors that allowed the projects to move forward. I forget the numbers on one of the projects, but the other was 90 acre-feet of Zone 2C water per year. For the record, I live off Highway 68 and am not a fan of either project, but I am simply trying to make a point. The posturing from the dais at the Board of Supervisors meeting predictable. Jane Parker voted no, and I truly believe she votes her conscience and believes what she says, water is an issue, and a no vote. Potter, after doing a head count and knowing he had 3 votes yes, pontificated about 90 acre-feet and voted no.

Where is the hue and cry over the 1,822.90 acre feet of Zone 2C water being wasted on a test that will never get close to 4% salinity. And why is 4% a magic number? It is still water Cal Am does not own and not legally transport.

Let me put two points to rest for the Cal Am naysayers who say 1) the test was necessary, and 2) we did not have preexisting test data.

The test numbers in the EIR certified by the state Public Utilities Commission in 2010 pegged the fresh water percentage in the groundwater at the CEMEX site at 25%. Going vertical with a deeper core at the same site generated the infamous 15% that was heavily debated. Memories starting to return? All you have to do is pull up the prior EIR to find this data.

The State Water Resource Control Board and the Coastal Commission, following CEQA guidelines, require evaluation of all the applicable water sources. Prior data testing that is timely and relevant may be included in the data set presented to the regulatory authorities, for evaluation.” Straight from the CEQA handbook, perhaps Marc Del Piero can weigh in on this.

One final thought, the salinity and total dissolved solids measurements can be done hourly and with a kit. I find it interesting that two months turned into a Friday report with no other press outlet reporting. Congratulations, Pine Cone, on hard-hitting investigative journalism.

Steve Collins is an accountant and former chairman of the Monterey County Water Resource Agency board of directors. He helped lead the county’s efforts to develop a desalination plant in partnership with Cal Am and was prosecuted for a conflict of interest that he maintains was encouraged and approved by top county officials.


Clean Drinking WaterThe Herald headline was “Cal Am: Desalination test well pumping better than expected” and the story had the utility gushing about gallonage but being less forthcoming about what is in the water being pumped by the Marina test well.

Steve Collins and Ron Weitzman saw Cal Am spin rather than substance. Here are their brief responses, in order.

Collins:  After the snafus of Cal Am over the last couple of weeks, their PR department is in full swing sending positive pieces to the press in hopes someone will print it.

1. If you spend $7.5M on a test well is it not supposed to pump water?

2. CEQA requires the initial water received from the well to be tested for many variables, including salinity, TDS, brackish or fresh component, etc. The monitoring wells for Cal Am are being monitored by Dr. Dennis Williams who posts HOURLY results of the water coming from the associated monitoring wells. It takes weeks or months to tell us the composition of the slant well water? The County of Monterey employs folks who travel the County testing well water for the exact same things as noted herein, and they have a kit in their truck that gives them the result in minutes. Cal Am does not have these same tools?

3. The clumsy and foolish attempt to SELL Salinas Valley water back to the Salinas Valley obviously ended with a resounding thud for Cal Am. Would a “hail Mary” such as this not suggest Cal Am is well aware of the groundwater component of the slant well? Can you imagine why they might be waiting to release these results?

4. 1,800 gallons per minute is a measure of effectiveness, another measure required by CEQA is efficiency. Sooner or later Cal Am is going to be required to give the public the second measurement, as well. I wonder if any of the casings are cracked, leading to leakage of seawater into a fresh water aquifer? I wonder of the screens and pumps are properly located to ensure as little Salinas Valley aquifer water is being “taken”, as possible? I wonder if the shaft is at the proper angle or deep enough? I wonder if the power consumption is at projected usage or if the efficiency is on target?

Weitzman: Headlines in yesterday’s Herald make it look as though we are drowning in water, which is ironic since we are using less per person per day than about any other locality in the state.  A number of people have been sending out skeptical emails about the “Cal Am:  Test well pumping is exceeding expectations” story.  One has called it a “puff” piece.  An engineer expressed surprise about surpassing the 1,800 gallons-per-minute volume supposedly set as a goal.  He thought that was exceedingly excessive for a slant well.  My thought was it indicated much of the extracted water came from aquifer sources, a thought substantiated by Cal Am’s brazen proposal to sell any fresh-water component back to growers who own the rights to it.  You must realize that the headline, for which you are not responsible,  gave a misleading impression since it seemed, erroneously, to contradict the impression from last week’s story that the initial samples extracted were deficient in that they contained too much fresh water.  Some of the people emailing me about yesterday’s story wondered why you did not ask about the salinity of the water extracted.  In any event, it appears that Cal Am’s public-relations machinery is in full gear.