Fifth District Supervisor Dave Potter is abandoning all pretense of caring about good development in his final months of office. It used to be that Potter would shed crocodile tears about always losing on 3-2 votes for projects in his own district, while quietly making sure – wink, wink, nod, nod – that a majority was in place to approve bad developments. Think September Ranch and Ferrini Ranch subdivisions, or the shopping mall at Corral de Tierra and Highway 68. After having been trounced (I wonder why?) in his bid for re-election, Potter is now going all out to fast track the Rancho Canada subdivision at the mouth of Carmel Valley before his terms expires. Apparently he still owes favors to his developer friends.
The Rancho Canada Subdivision (RCS) application is a fraud being perpetrated by the developers with the active collusion thus far by Monterey County, thanks to Potter. The Planning Commission is scheduled to hear the application Wednesday and the Board of Supervisors in three weeks in the mad rush to get it done.
I don’t take the term fraud lightly, so let’s begin deconstructing the application. Years ago, the RCS developers started an application process, but its environmental impact report was so poorly done that the developers withdrew it and the project died. Lazarus-like, RCS is back, and the developers claim that it must be considered under the old general plan, which was replaced six years ago. Here, then, are the first two parts of the fraud: insisting that it must be considered under a long dead but more lenient general plan, and doing so to try to avoid the county’s binding legal commitments.
In 2012, in order to settle a lawsuit brought by the Carmel Valley Association, the county committed to cap new units created in the Carmel Valley Master Plan area to 190. This is a legally binding commitment that the county cannot simply set aside. During the discussions that reached the 190 cap – I was one of CVA’s negotiators – Rancho Canada was specifically discussed as being included under that cap amount.
By accepting a 281-unit subdivision application, the county is acting in bad faith and risks wasting taxpayer dollars in defending what would be an easy case against it. Simply asserting that it is considering the application under a general plan that was replaced in 2010 is nonsense and would never stand up to scrutiny.
But here is the real play that is going on: the 281-unit subdivision application is a Trojan horse, designed to get into the gate and approved instead a 130-unit “alternative” for the subdivision. A reasonable person may ask: why not then just apply for the 130-unit subdivision under the current 2010 general plan as that would fit under the 190-unit cap?
Here is where the fraud deepens. There are at least four reasons that taking this obvious and correct step would probably not work, and thus why the developers – and Dave Potter – insist on considering the application under the long-dead general plan.
First, even at 130 units the numbers might not work for RCS. Of the 190-unit cap, at least 30 units have already been allocated, leaving at most 160. But the 2010 general plan also specifically allocates 24 of those units to a project at the old Carmel Valley airport, leaving at most 136 units available. But we would need to see a full accounting of the allocated units first to be able to say for sure that 130 units were still even available.
If, in fact, 130 units are not available, then the county would need to make a general plan amendment re-allocating some of those airport units to RCS – and that is the second problem. Making general plan amendments under the current 2010 general plan is much more difficult than under the old general plan, and Potter does not have the time to wait. Under no circumstances could the county make a general plan amendment removing the 190-unit cap.
A third (political) problem would then arise: RCS would use up by itself essentially all the remaining unallocated units from the 190 cap, leaving no one else outside of the airport owners the ability to subdivide. Politically, Potter does not want the heat for effectively denying all other applicants outside of the RCS owners, so the fraud about considering RCS under the old general plan got ginned up.
Fourth, RCS is inconsistent in a multitude of ways with the current general plan, as both the Carmel Valley Association and Landwatch have pointed out, thus the developers have pushed for the friendlier confines of an expired general plan written nearly four decades ago.
Hopefully not lost in the fraud surrounding the application is that the 130-unit “alternative” itself is just straight up a bad project. It represents the worst of leap-frog, sprawl development that we have seen too much of in California. As well, the one commendable item in the original 281-unit application – 50% of the units were allocated to workforce housing – has been put aside in lieu of the county’s bare minimum standard of 20% affordable housing. There is nothing compelling about this subdivision application at all once that 50% workforce housing element was removed. It would also violate policy CV 1.6a that gives preference to projects that include “50% affordable housing units.” It is just another run-of-the-mill bad sprawl development with nothing to recommend it.
Potter’s support of RCS will undo his one really good achievement during his time as supervisor: the building of the “climbing lane” on northbound Highway 1 up Carmel Hill. Traffic congestion was utterly horrible at the mouth of Carmel Valley before the climbing lane was built. Part of Potter’s marketing of the climbing lane as found in various county documents is that it would be “no growth inducing” and was meant only to relieve extant congestion. But this was more than a marketing pitch; it had legal consequences. By framing the issue as “no growth inducing” Potter was able to bypass CEQA and not do an EIR for the project. Can anyone imagine RCS being contemplated with the congestion we had before the climbing lane? By considering RCS now, the county is violating its legal and moral pledge to the community that the climbing lane would not be used as an excuse to approve more development.
The Planning Commission should not be party to Potter’s rush to approve RCS. Compel the developer to return with a suitable project that is consistent with the current general plan and the legal commitments that the county has. The Planning Commission would do well not to be complicit in the RCS fraud.
Robinson is a professor who has long been active in Carmel Valley land use issues. See the update on the Rancho Canada subdivision and its clarification on the use of two general plans.