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horses neonBack when the Monterey Downs development was the subject of dueling ballot measures, Jack Stewart was a key part of the disinformation campaign supporting the venture.

The Monterey Downs developers used every trick in the book to win that round. The worst was convincing gullible voters that those opposed to the racetrack project were also opposed to veterans and the veterans cemetery at Fort Ord. There was a slight connection between the project and the cemetery but it was a weak one created only to create a talking point for the project backers.

Stewart was one of the faces of the opposition and he was a good choice. He’s an older fellow and a veteran and people tend to give the benefit of the doubt to older veterans. Unfortunately, he abused that trust and he’s at it again.

His latest ploy is his letter to the editor in Friday’s Monterey Herald. He writes that two Seaside City Council members and a council member-elect, Kayla Jones, support a ballot measure that would overturn the council’s recent approval of the project. If he had stopped there, he would have been right. Council members Jason Campbell and Dave Pacheco are opposed to the venture, as is Jones.

But Stewart goes on to say that the ballot measure, which is being pursued by LandWatch Monterey County, would result in a special election that would cost the city $120,000.

“The majority is willing to expend city revenues because they don’t want to make a decision that may affect their future political ambitions,” Stewart writes. “They hope voters will forget about the expended city revenues and hope the veterans community won’t mind being thrown under the bus.”

But here’s the thing. If project opponents collect enough signature to force a ballot measure, which won’t be a problem,  the measure doesn’t have to go to the ballot. The council has the option of accepting the will of the people and voting to kill the misbegotten project. There is no need for a ballot measure to stop the horse racing/housing/commercial project.

That’s what happened when the public collected signatures in opposition to cutting down a zillion trees in order to build a bus yard at a site near the proposed Monterey Downs property. The Monterey County Board of Supervisors had voted to proceed with the bus project but it reversed itself when presented with a referendum petition.

“Upon further reflection,” the supes said, demonstrating some belated political wisdom.

I probably should also mention that Stewart’s letter also accuses the budding council majority of throwing the “veterans community” under the bus. The referendum has nothing to do with the veterans cemetery, which is already being built. Stewart knows that but it worked once.

By the way, now they’re calling the project Monument Village and saying that it only kinda, sorta involves horse racing. I’m thinking maybe they should have stayed with the horse racing theme and called it Thumbs Downs.

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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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Monterey County supes tell enviros to pound sand

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Businessman discouraged and saddened by his failures

Maybe this fellow is downhearted because he just learned that the county supervisors consider the general plan a business plan, not a land-use plan. Or, he’s simply a model in a stock photo.

Anyone who doubts that a political and cultural war is being waged in Monterey County would have been disabused of the idea at Tuesday’s meeting of the Board of Supervisors.

The issue on the table was approval of a settlement agreement that county staff had negotiated with the government watchdog group Open Government Monterey and the environmental group LandWatch Monterey County. The agreement was meant to end litigation in which those groups spelled out their concerns about the impact and legality of the county’s 2010 general plan, which is heavily weighted toward the wants of developers and agribusiness.

Everyone in the room knew there was no chance that the supervisors were going to publicly ratify language taking back any of what the business interests had won five years ago, but the session provided them with the opportunity to talk tough in front of various benefactors.

“We can’t strangulate this county,” said Supervisor Fernando Armenta, according to a report in the Monterey County Weekly. Armenta said he had recently enjoyed a drive along Napa Valley’s vaunted wine trail and wished Monterey County could be more like that, green and relatively lacking in contentiousness. He mentioned without making his context clear that he had not seen any of the endangered species that are issues in Monterey County planning matters.

Much of the discussion was about Monterey County’s wine corridor, which the wine industry envisions as a series of wineries and tasting rooms along River Road on the western edge of the Salinas Valley. Although county officials have expressed nothing but support for the idea, little has materialized there.

(In a meeting with Monterey Herald editors several years ago, vintner Kurt Gollnick was asked what benefits a wine corridor would provide to those outside the wind industry. He couldn’t come up with an answer at the time.)

Specifics of Tuesday’s discussion included what can and cannot be planted on steep slopes susceptible to erosion, what can be done to accommodate the passage of wildlife through farms and fields.

The advocacy groups and the county had reached a tentative agreement in January but it could not take effect without a majority vote of the supervisors. It didn’t come close. Supervisor Jane Parker was the only supporter. She noted that the county’s legal bills are adding up quickly as the discussions continue and court proceedings loom.

By a vote of 4-1, the supervisors agreed to continue the discussion for another couple weeks, but the chances of a negotiated settlement appear to be growing slimmer.

Supervisor John Phillips voted for the extension but was dismissive of the general plan opponents.

“We all know the plaintiffs here live by litigation and that’s how they support themselves,” said Phillips, who supported himself by working as a lawyer and then a judge before joining the board

The supervisors were being cheered on by the county Planning Commission, several farm and business groups, the mayors’ association and the cities of Gonzales, Soledad and even Sand City, which is almost entirely unaffected by anything that goes into the general plan.

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New House BuildingMonterey County officials did the Ferrini Ranch developers a favor by allowing them to rely on the county’s 1982 general plan rather than the stronger 2010 plan, but they managed to fumble the process anyway by allowing the project to skirt even the less stringent provisions of the old plan. That is a key contention of a lawsuit filed Friday by LandWatch Monterey County, legal action that complements a suit filed the day before by the Highway 68 Coalition.

Seeking to block the Highway 68 development, the new suit faults the county on numerous fronts, saying the environmental impact report on the project failed to properly consider impacts and mitigations on traffic, sensitive habitat, visual impact, water supply and other areas.

The EIR couldn’t properly address many of those issues because the design of the project, including the location of lots and various traffic features continued to change even after the county Planning Commission had approved the venture, according to the litigation. It was filed on LandWatch’s behalf by San Francisco environmental lawyers Mark R. Wolfe and John H. Farrow.

It challenges the county’s decision to get around the law requiring developers to present proof of a long-term water supply. Instead, county officials simply declared that the existence of the Salinas Valley Water Project constitutes such proof even though has no concrete plans in place to augment the valley’s dwindling water supply.

Supervisor Lou Calcagno, in one of his last official acts, voted for the project but only after announcing a public relations gesture. Though there had been no public discussion, Calcagno announced that the developers, the Kelton family of Southern California, had agreed to contribute money toward a possible wastewater recycling facility, which theoretically would help address the Salinas Valley groundwater shortage.

Later, in an end-of-term interview with the Monterey County Weekly, Calcagno said he took pride in how he had handled negotiations over the Ferrini venture – negotiations that the public was not privy to until they were a done deal.

The project consists of 185 lots on 870 acres along Highway 68 on both sides of the Toro Regional Park entrance. The development would run from near San Benancio Road to near River Road. It would require removal of 921 oak trees and would see construction of houses on slopes steeper than 30 degrees. Each of the supervisors who voted for the project—Calcagno, Fernando Armenta and Simon Salinas—had received campaign contributions from the developers.

 A sidenote about an email, snarky but inconsequential:

After the supervisors approved the Ferrini Ranch project, the Partisan filed a public records request with the county, seeking access to any emails between the developers and the supervisors. County officials responded this week, saying they had found only a handful of emails.One of the more interesting communications, at least in the Partisan’s view, was a copy of a Partisan article about the approval along with comments from numerous Partisan readers attached.

Builder Ray Harrod of the development team had emailed the article to project spokeswoman Candy Ingram, developer Mark Kelton and project attorneys Tony Lombardo and Brian Finnegan. Harrod mentioned in the email that one of the original reader comments had been deleted. He added, “Guess Royal (Partisan proprietor Royal Calkins) does not want anyone to see what type of followers he has.”

I’m not sure, but I think I’ve been insulted, at least a little. And if you’re reading this, you might have been as well.

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