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????As ideas go, this one was short-lived, lasting just long enough for the feds to get wind of it.

It first raised its head at the June 22 meeting of the Monterey County Water Resource Agency, the arm of Monterey County government that is mainly responsible for ensuring that the growers of the Salinas Valley get enough water for their crops.

The idea was put in the form of a motion: Let us consider easing the the impact of the drought by using just about every ounce of water stored in the county-owned Nacimiento Reservoir. Put another way, let’s open the floodgates so that the flow reaches 250 to 300 cubic feet per second rather than the minimal seasonal level of 60 cubic foot per second designed to provide some irrigation water while also maintaining the riparian habitat and the wildlife it supports.

It took only one day for the idea to travel all the way to the offices of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the federal agency charged with protecting the ocean environment and the waterways that sustain it.

It took four pages for NOAA to say what it thought of the idea, but it can be summarized in two words. No way!

In a letter of July 1, recently obtained by the Partisan, regional NOAA official Gary Stern said reducing the flows so dramatically would severely jeopardize the already threatened steelhead population.

National fisheries experts believe “the highly impaired status of the population has been further impacted by the prolonged drought conditions, which has greatly restricted or eliminated migration for adult and smolt life stages,” Stern wrote. “…The lack of river flow has precluded all steehead reproduction for at least the last two years and the potential for reproduction the previous two years was very low, if any.”

Stern said the flow was seriously impaired in 2014-15 in part because of the limited storage in the Nacimiento and San Antonio reservoirs and the operation of the Salinas Valley Water Project in back to back dry years, 2012 and 2013. The water project is a principal provider of irrigation water to Salinas Valley farms.

“Implementation of the proposed flow release plan would result in an acceleration depletion of the remaining reservoir storage and would increase the likelihood of precluding a third consecutive steelhead year-class from reproducing,” Stern wrote. Reducing the flow as proposed by county officials would “provide temporary benefits to a very limited number of stakeholders and beneficial uses” while likely resulting in “mortality to all aquatic species present.”

In other words, don’t even think about it.

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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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Perfection concept.What’s not to like abut the Ferrini Ranch project? That’s the one that goes to the Monterey County Board of Supervisors for a decision on Tuesday, and it’s about time. The project website promises a very long lost list of really bad things that won’t happen if the supervisors say yes.

For instance, there won’t be 703 acres of development like there would have been under the previous plan. Nope. Now it will only be 602 acres, so the supervisors will actually be saving 101 acres of lovely grasslands!

There won’t be 212 residential units in the lovely hills along Highway 68, or 500 or 600 units as originally envisioned. That’s because there will only be 185.

Key scenic views from Highway 68, River Road and San Benancio Road will not be ruined because most of the 185 houses will largely be hidden behind hills! One might wonder whether something much worse might have been hidden there instead if the supervisors didn’t act.

The wine facility won’t be a huge 110,000-square-foot structure like the developers. No way! It will be just 28,500 square feet, not much bigger than some of the homes!

Not all of the pretty lupine field behind San Benancio Middle School will be lost! Only some of it. Phew.

Remember the proposed access road in Toro Park? Not going to happen! And the frontage road along Highway 68. Thanks to the developers and no one else, it won’t be needed either! Which means more open space for all of us to enjoy! If they keep on creating open space, the supes might end up deserving what we’re paying them.

Finally, the project will not draw down the water table from the already overdrawn Toro Basin? That’s because it will draw down the water table from the already overdrawn Salinas Valley aquifer instead, and there’s a legal agreement already in place that says that’s no big deal!

The agreement, a byproduct of the county’s last general plan, says that if the property owners have been paying into the Salinas Valley Water Project, the property is presumed to have an adequate water supply even though everyone knows that it does not. This is what is known as a legal fiction.

(If you have a minute, take a look at the website for the Salinas Valley Water Project. You’ll find lots of detail, such as the thickness of the concrete at Nacimiento Dam and the number of gallons in an acre-foot, but you won’t find any details about any plans for the Salinas Valley Water Project to produce any more water because there aren’t any such plans. BTW, this “sentence” from the website is my favorite part: “The SVWP the Nacimiento Dam Spillway Modification Component , which includes enlargement of the spillway and installation of a rubber spillway gate at the dam and a diversion facility , which is another rubber dam on the Salinas River near Marina, to allow diversion of river water for treatment and piping to nearby farms for irrigation.” )

In other words, the only thing that could have been better than the project being approved Tuesday would have occurred if the developers, the Kelton family, had proposed a significantly larger project, because then this smaller project would be saving us from even more harm. Maybe the next time, they’ll think bigger early on and we’ll have even more to be thankful about.

It’s called land-used planning by mitigation and negotiation. Rather than build subdivisions where they belong, in cities, developers pick attractive parcels well out of town. (It’s called leapfrog development, but they avoid the term in their brochures.) Next, rather than rely on good planning principles, they propose the maximum possible number of units that could be squeezed onto the property, unimaginative design, elimination of trees, marginal replacement landscaping and suspect drainage plans. Think of it as a bluff, or, if you prefer, a threat.

Then, proving themselves to actually be great folks after all, they negotiate downward. They meet with the neighbors and decide to reduce the density, maybe even plant more trees as buffers. Over time, they give up some of this and some of that until, near the end, they’re nominating themselves for philanthropist of the year awards.

What results, of course, is a project that probably should be called It Could Have Been Much Worse Estates, Phase 1.

The Ferrini Ranch project is, in many ways, the absolute model of how planning is done these days in Monterey County, with predictable results. Years of campaign contributions set the stage, the larger plan is introduced, neighbors complain, plan is downsized before it goes to planning commission, planning commission is divided, goes to supes. Then, if it is in Dave Potter’s district, Potter votes against it but doesn’t put up any real political fight against because, after all, he was one of the recipients of the campaign contributions (see paragraph above.) He doesn’t do what politicians do and trade votes with the automatic yes votes, Simon Salinas and Fernando Armenta. He just votes no along with Supervisor Jane Parker. Chairman Lou Calcagno goes back and forth, looks troubled, says this is a tough one, folks, and then votes for the development, which is approved 3-2.

But no, it doesn’t end there. Richard Rosenthal and/or Michael Stamp file a lawsuit over the inadequate environmental impact report or, in this case, the systematic overdrafting of the Salinas Valley aquifer. A couple years go by. Settlement allows for much smaller development or contribution of land to Big Sur Land Trust.

Developer takes huge tax write-off based on value of original project.

No one notices because everyone is focused on next big plan.

Years of campaign contributions set the stage . . .

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