The collapse of the huge Monterey Downs project is good news for those of us who support sound land-use planning. It is also a personal defeat for outgoing Supervisor Dave Potter, who was a critical “mover and shaker” for the project, mostly behind the scenes.
Will we see a similar defeat for Potter’s other big project, before he is shown the door at the end of the month? Probably not, at least not next week when it comes before the Board of Supervisors. Potter has put the Rancho Canada subdivision proposal for the mouth of Carmel Valley on a fast track for approval before he leaves office, and has made sure to line up the votes to get it done. By a 4-3 vote, the project cleared the Planning Commission, “bypassing any substantive discussion” as Jim Johnson in the Herald aptly described the proceedings.
The rush to push the project through to the Board of Supervisors was most clearly seen in the treatment of the “draft” final environmental impact report, which was distributed to planning commissioners less than a week before the hearing. Martha Diehl’s common sense motion to delay the hearing until January to give the commissioners a chance to read the report and the various new conditions of approval was defeated. Commissioners had even less time to digest other important elements of the proposal, which were presented the day of the hearing.
Diehl subsequently wrote to the Partisan that “the first time I saw some 55 or so of the 119 proposed Conditions of Approval was at the hearing, and I for one had no opportunity whatsoever to read them, much less review them.”
Is this any way to deliberate over important land use decisions?
An earlier article I wrote on the Rancho Canada subdivision prior to the Planning Commission hearing stated that the application was being considered in part under the old 1982 general plan. This claim is true, although county staff specifically (albeit falsely) maintains that the application is consistent with the current 2010 general plan. Specifically, the county maintains (Planning Commission staff report page 3, and Board of Supervisors report Exhibit A, page 1) that a 2004 application “deemed complete” in 2005 under the old plan is still acceptable. Thus, it would seem applications made years or decades ago under a long expired general plan may be resurrected instead of requiring a new application and a new process. In the words of the county, an application more than a decade old was simply “put on hold” and evidently may be considered at any time in the future with no expiration date.
That said, county staff’s assertion that Rancho Canada is consistent with the 2010 general plan is false. As the staff reports to both the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors make clear, the application from 2004 was for 281 housing units and that has not changed. Yet, a legal settlement with the Carmel Valley Association, reflected as an amendment in the general plan — and noted in the staff reports – caps development in the Carmel Valley Master Plan to 190 units. So county staff is trying to say with a straight face that 281 units somehow fits into a 190-unit cap.
This is the purpose of allowing the application to be considered just “on hold” from the old general plan rules because the application obviously is not consistent with the new general plan’s cap of 190-units. Without that sleight of hand to maintain that an application may be revived decades later instead of needing to be resubmitted in conformance with the new general plan, this application would have been rejected a priori (or, at least, should have been). As I argued before, the Lazarus-like revival of the 281-unit subdivision from 2004 is in reality a Trojan horse to get a 130-unit “alternative” subdivision approved.
Richard Stott gave a thoughtful response to my earlier article that essentially argued that the flood control elements to the Rancho Canada subdivision application are worth the price of the subdivision itself. I thank Dick for his considered response. Allow me to respond in two ways. First, reasonable flood control measures ought to be undertaken to protect citizens regardless of consideration of this or that subdivision. Good land-use planning would consider responsible flood control projects on their own merits.
Second, and to put it bluntly, be careful what you wish for: flood control in the hands of the Rancho Canada subdivision developers has a tainted history. Please recall the former “blister” along the south side of the Carmel River, the removal of which was considered important for flood control purposes. The blister was an illegal dump for rubble from an old hotel in Monterey demolished decades ago. Over the decades, others added lord-knows-what to this illegal dump. Several years back, in preparation for the subdivision, the Rancho Canada developers applied for a permit to build an “agricultural road” on other lands they owned, specifically on the nearby Odello East artichoke fields. Like bridges in Alaska, this was a “road to nowhere” that served no obvious purpose.
Two Carmel Valley residents happened to stumble on the real purpose of the “agricultural road:” a huge elongated pit into which the contents of the “blister” were being dumped. Alerted, the county immediately issued a red tag to cease the activity, but ultimately allowed the developers to finish covering the rubble with dirt. County staff told the Carmel Valley Association that there was nothing they could do to prevent the construction of such an agricultural road, as if the illegal disposal of construction waste was a normal part of dirt road construction. I suspect, but cannot prove, that Mr. Potter twisted some arms to make sure the red tag was lifted and the disposal proceeded.
I shudder to think of what might be percolating into the Odello East artichoke fields these days, and what future floods might bring to the whole of the flood plain and residents nearby. Some of those Odello lands were donated to the Big Sur Land Trust earlier this year.
That is the track record of the Rancho Canada developers when it comes to flood control.
There is no compelling argument to approve the Rancho Canada subdivision and to allocate virtually all remaining units in the general plan. It is just more leapfrog, sprawl development in an environmentally sensitive location, not to mention a looming eyesore in a beautiful area dependent, in part, on eco- and recreational tourism. The 130-unit alternative loses the only positive element in the old application: reserving 50% for affordable and workforce housing (as called for in the general plan); the developers are proposing the bare-minimum 20% required by the county on all big subdivisions.
The subdivision violates numerous other provisions of the current general plan, and will create unmitigated traffic congestion. Indeed, Rancho Canada will undo Dave Potter’s only real accomplishment as supervisor: getting the climbing lane built on northbound Highway 1 over Carmel Hill to relieve traffic congestion at the mouth of Carmel Valley. We will be “back to the future” when it comes to traffic congestion.
Like Monterey Downs, the Rancho Canada subdivision is a pet project of Dave Potter, and like Monterey Downs, Rancho Canada will collapse at some point given its obvious defects. But that has not prevented Potter from trying to rush the project through to approval by the Board of Supervisors before he leaves office. Potter will likely get his way next week, but his victory will certainly be ephemeral. Before wasting taxpayer dollars defending this poor project, the supervisors would be wise to slow down Potter’s train.
Robinson is a professor who has long been active in Carmel Valley land use issues.