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The lead-up to the Coastal Commission hearing on July 14 to determine the continued affordability of 161 Moro Cojo homes has become heated with CHISPA and a variety of Monterey County politicians and leaders claiming that organizations and individuals who oppose lifting the affordability deed restriction are anti-farmworker and uncaring about affordable housing. Monterey Bay Partisan readers will likely be interested that the organizations and individuals painted with this brush include the Sierra Club, League of Women Voters, LandWatch, and by implication, former North County Supervisor Marc Del Piero and many Partisan readers themselves.

You would rightfully be confused at this accusation. It has happened because last fall those organizations and individuals persuaded the Coastal Commission to not accept the January 2016 decision by the Board of Supervisors to allow the homes to be sold at market rate. Coastal commissioners discussed the letters and scheduled a de novo hearing where the affordability requirement could be discussed in depth. That’s happening on the 14th; details can be found at the end of this article.

The accusations are included in letters sent by CHISPA, and in form letters signed by Salinas Valley leaders such as Salinas Mayor Joe Gunter, Gonzales Mayor Maria Orozco, Monterey County Supervisor Simon Salinas, former Supervisor Fernando Armenta, Greenfield political figures  John Huerta and Jesus Olvera-Garcia, Soledad Mayor Fred Ledesma,  and the Most Reverend Richard J. Garcia, bishop of the Diocese of Monterey. As noted, they claim anti-farmworker and anti-affordable housing bias.

The irony is that those organizations and individuals charged with bias were acting to preserve affordable housing, while the organizations and individuals allegedly most interested in affordable housing are acting to convert affordable housing to market rate!

And we’re down the rabbit hole.

At issue is the affordability restriction that  keeps the subsidized homes’ selling prices capped at prices affordable to future qualified low- and moderate-income buyers. That figure currently is $290,000, roughly $100,000 more than Moro Cojo homeowners originally paid. If the selling prices weren’t capped, Moro Cojo homeowners could likely profit by twice that when they sell, netting $200,000 instead of $100,000. CHISPA and 161 of the homeowners want the higher profit and they’ve persuaded Salinas Valley leaders to support them.

The issue began back in 2000-2001 when the Moro Cojo subdivision was developed as an affordable housing project. The approval process was challenged in a Coastal Commission appeal in the 1990s, and later in a lawsuit that was settled by making the 175 single-family homes permanently affordable. The subdivision includes a large park, 90 multi-family units and 175 single-family homes  in the coastal zone near Castroville.

The Coastal Commission’s legal duty at the hearing will be to determine whether granting the application to terminate affordability on the 161 homes is consistent with North County Coastal Plan policies. The relevant policy is remarkably clear and simple:

“LUP Policy 4.3.6.D.1. The County shall protect existing affordable housing opportunities in the North County coastal area from loss due to deterioration, conversion, or any other reason. The County will:

a.) Discourage demolitions, but, require replacement on a one by one basis of all demolished or converted units which were affordable to or occupied by low and moderate income persons.”

And here we have another irony: Using tortured logic, the July 14 staff report claims on pages 13-16 that terminating affordability is consistent with LUP Policy 4.3.6.D.1!

Astoundingly, no replacement units are proposed. This is important. The cost to replace 161 homes at $300,000 each would exceed $48 million. The 161 Moro Cojo affordable homes currently exist. Removing the affordability restriction would help current Moro Cojo homeowners, but deprive future eligible purchasers of the chance for homeownership.

Partisan readers who want the Coastal Commission to keep the subsidized 161 Moro Cojo homes affordable should submit comments to the Coastal Commission by July 7, so commissioners will know Monterey County residents really do care about affordable housing.

If you need convincing about what a great community the affordable Moro Cojo subdivision is, drive on Castroville Boulevard just beyond North County High School. You’ll see play equipment for youngsters and a soccer field in a large public park surrounded by well kept homes. Hopefully, those homes will, as clearly intended, remain permanently affordable to future moderate- and low-income purchasers beyond July 14.

The de novo hearing is scheduled for July 14. It is agenda item 7a on the staff report.

Comments can be emailed to diana.chapman@coastal.ca.gov or snail-mailed to Brian O’Neill at California Coastal Commission Central Coast District Office, 725 Front Street, Suite 300 Santa Cruz CA 95060. Comments should mention Project A-3-MCO-16-16-0017 and arrive by July 7.

Jane Haines is a retired lawyer and long-time advocate for affordable housing. 

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Brochure says Dana Point mega project was “Inspired by Nature.”

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The Strand at the Headlands, a housing development in Dana Point in Orange County that Dave Potter voted for when he was a member of the California Coastal Commission.

I wasn’t going to write any more about Dave Potter’s re-election bid because we’re so close to Tuesday’s election, but then he sent a provocation to my mailbox. It’s his latest campaign mailer and it has a nice photo on the front of an oceanfront cypress with the words “A delicate balance.” Inside, it says, “As the longest serving government appointee to the California Coastal Commission (1997-2009), Dave led statewide efforts to protect our most precious natural resource from unwise and excessive development.”

Forget that he was removed from the commission after compiling one of the worst environmental records of all the commissioners, according to annual rankings by Surfrider and the Sierra Club. The Carmel Pine Cone reported last week and plans to report again this week that he wasn’t removed, an absolutely incorrect assertion based on then-Assembly Speaker Karen Bass’s overly polite comment that she wasn’t even aware of his voting record when she replaced him with a more environmentally friendly appointee. The Pine Cone accuses Adams of lying, and worse, even though Potter publicly acknowledged that “the environmentalists” had arranged for his removal over his objections.

Coincidentally, when Potter’s latest touchy-feely mailer arrived, I was contemplating a piece of my own, updating Potter’s yes vote on one of the most controversial Southern California development projects of his Coastal Commission tenure. I had been leaning toward letting it go, lest it be suggested that the Partisan has already made the case against his re-election and was piling on. But then I saw that cypress tree and read about how Potter has been “Guarding Our Coastline.”

Potter’s time on the Coastal Commission provided him with a great opportunity to become cozy with development interests up and down the state while portraying himself as a conservationist at home, a pretense he has partly abandoned in recent years. While casting token anti-development votes here, he routinely voted in favor of controversial development projects large and small along the coast. It was during one Los Angeles County application process that he met and became friends with horse-racing promoter Brian Boudreau, who brought his controversial Monterey Downs racetrack venture to Monterey County at Potter’s invitation.

But possibly the most controversial project of Potter’s time on the commission was the Dana Point Headlands project, which allowed a string of monster homes to be built on the sand over the super-strenous objections of just about everyone except the developer. Remarkably, while Potter’s commission vote in favor of the venture came a dozen years ago, he is still enjoying the benefits.

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Photo of Headlands homes from Sanford Edwards’ website

The Headlands developer, Sanford Edward, early this year contributed $1,000 to Potter’s campaign against challenger Mary Adams for his 5th District seat. And one of the first millionaires to build a monster home there, David Demshur, contributed $2,000 just last month.

Here is what the Sierra Club said about the Headlands venture after the vote:

“The project violates the Coastal Act in that it calls for severe grading in the coastal zone and construction of a 2200-foot-long rock pile revetment/seawall to support about 70 custom lots on Strands bluff. Even the Coastal Commission’s own staff’s reports strongly recommended denial of this project based on its multiple Coastal Act violations.

If granted, the preliminary injunction would have halted construction on the Headlands project until the lawsuit came to trial, several months later.

In late June, Sierra Club and Surfrider assessed the situation. Without the preliminary injunction, construction on the site would continue until the trial; even if the environmentalists won at trial, undoing of the development work would be unlikely. The need to put resources into the much larger toll road/Trestles campaign loomed large. The groups reached regretful consensus to end the Headlands campaign.

Sierra Club National Litigation Committee approved dismissal of the suit in mid-September. Surfrider Foundation has also voted to approve dismissal.

The development is now in full swing. An outing to Strands Beach is now marred by the sight of heavy-duty construction machinery working on the bluff. The once-peaceful bluff has been cleared of all vegetation and looks like it has been strip-mined.

The Coastal Commission’s approval of the project has not only destroyed the natural beauty that once was Strands bluff, but also set a bad precedent for other coastal development projects throughout California.”

(A previous Partisan post misstated Potter’s vote based on erroneous information in a Los Angeles Times account.)

Demshur’s 10,000-square-foot home at the Dana Point development has received considerable publicity for its design. Incidentally, his primary residence is on a golf course in Houston, where he is the head of Core Laboratories, which is heavily involved in oil fracking. The Partisan’s mention of his fracking work May 12 prompted Potter to return his $2,000 contribution the next day. However, Potter had previously collected what is likely to have been considerably more from Demshur. The supervisor’s statement of economic interests for 2015 says his Potter Construction Co. received something in excess of $100,000 that year from Demshur and two companies, Enviro International and Ocean Breeze Construction. Specific dollar amounts and details of the work are not included on the forms and Potter did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday.

Enviro International is operated by Safwat Malek, the Pebble Beach architect who is currently involved in a Carmel home-building project with Potter. It is likely that Ocean Breeze Construction is actually Ocean Breeze Quality Building in Carmel.

Coincidentally or not, both Edwards and Demshur now have business in front of Monterey County government. Edwards several years ago bought what used to be known as the Oreck estate on the 12th Fairway at Pebble Beach along with an adjoining lot. He demolished the 1924-era Oreck house and replaced it with a home for himself. He sold the other lot in 2012 to Demshur for $14 million but building plans have not yet been approved by the county. Edwards or someone working for him was cited by the county for demolishing the Oreck house without a permit but he was later able to clear that up, according to county records.

Potter Consruction Co., meanwhile, seems to have taken on a life of its own. Early in Potter’s tenure as supervisor, starting 20 years ago, it was a fairly active little operation specializing in cement work. It ran into financial problems, however, and soon was the subject of several mechanics liens from suppliers who had not been paid. Through the middle years of Potter’s supervisorial career, he said the company was inactive, though it maintained an office, and only in recent years has it come back to life. He said a month ago that it is largely operated by two subcontractors and requires little of his time. State records indicate the company has no employees.

Earlier this year Potter Construction was listed as the builder for renovations being done on Potter’s own home in Carmel and it is currently listed as the general contractor on the construction of a new, Safwat Malek-designed home at 6th and Dolores in Carmel.

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Potter, right, enjoys the support of fellow Supervisor and former Judge John Phillips

Dave Potter’s transformation is nearly complete. About all that’s left for him to do is change his registration.

Throughout his political career, Potter, the 5th District Monterey County supervisor, has been a Democrat and has enjoyed considerable support from the party and its spinoffs. This year, however, the best he could do endorsement-wise was a co-endorsement from the local party, which also endorsed his opponent in the June election, Mary Adams.

Adams, meanwhile, also received the endorsements of party-related groups that used to endorse Potter, such as the Democratic Women of Monterey County. Adams also picked up endorsements from the Monterey County chapter of the Progressive Democrats of America and the Salinas Valley Democratic Club.

Demonstrating how far Potter has drifted away from the progressive crowd that once supported him, one of his latest mailers (SEE BELOW) includes lengthy endorsement messages from one of the GOP’s most outspoken local activists, Paul Bruno, and longtime Republican bigwig Jeff Davi.

Davi was California’s real estate commissioner under Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarznegger (though the mailer makes him out to be the current commissioner.) He is perhaps best known for his agency’s nearly complete failure to prosecute any real estate interests during the height of the mortgage crisis. Some will also remember that Davi was Potter’s opponent in his first campaign for a seat on the Board of Supervisors.

Bruno would have been a Ted Cruz delegate if his favored candidate had stayed in the presidential race. He says in the mailer that he is a fan of Potter’s as well because “for me, it is all about good government.” He goes on to say that Potter has “an impressive record on issues of importance to us – jobs, the economy and fiscal responsibility.” Look for specifics in the next mailer, perhaps.

Bruno, some will recall, is the fellow who dragged a chain out to a political demonstration on Highway 1. He was going to haul the protesters away until the CHP made him stop. He’s also the fellow whose company, Monterey Peninsula Engineering, seems to have a lock on Cal Am pipeline work.

Also pictured in the same flyer is Potter endorser Steve Bernal, the young sheriff of Monterey County, also a proud Republican.

In his campaigns of old, Potter touted endorsements from the Sierra Club, Democratic legislators Bill Monning and Mark Stone. Not this time. His flyers of old included kind words from LandWatch activists. Not this time.

Clearly the mailer featuring Bruno, Davi and Bernal was tailored to Republican households in the district – Monterey, Carmel, Pacific Grove, Carmel Valley, Big Sur and the Highway 68 corridor – so it makes sense that he emphasizes the economy and public safety rather than the environment and social issues. The big headline on the mailer, featuring a photo of Bixby Bridge, is “Bridging the divide,” but the mailer never goes on to explain what divide he means.

There is another mailer, of course, for Democratic households. In it, Potter is still in favor of attracting jobs and economic growth, but in this version he wants to do that “without threatening the quality of life that makes us unique.” (By omitting that caution from the GOP version, is he telling his Republican constituents that he’s OK with threatening the quality of life?)

In the GOP version, he’s all about growth and jobs. In the Democratic version, “He’s said no to bad development projects that poorly impact our water supply and traffic.” In the GOP version, he doesn’t mention the environment. Not at all.

In both versions, he lists a number of organizations endorsing him this time around. They include:

That last one is particularly interesting. Not unexpected, but interesting. The Salinas Valley Leadership Group was formed primarily by contractor Don Chapin. Its board of directors includes Brian Finegan, the Salinas lawyer who specializes in representing real estate developers; architect Peter Kasavan, who helped design the proposed Salinas general plan element that calls for Salinas to expand onto prime farmland; and accountant Warren Wayland, who handles campaign reporting duties for most Republican candidates in the area.

Dues-paying members of the SVLG include Monterey Downs racetrack principals Brian Boudreau and Beth Palmer, Salinas promoter and bar owner David Drew, Monterey PR man David Armanasco, the head of the deeply troubled Alco Water System, and the builder and developer of the Ferrini Ranch development that Potter voted against after it became clear that it would win county approval regardless of his vote.

Potter’s mailer to both Democrat and GOP households mentions his endorsements from law enforcement unions. Oddly enough, the mailers to Democratic homes includes blurbs from his endorsements by the Monterey County Weekly and the Herald, but those aren’t mentioned in the mailers sent to Republicans.

In the mailers to the Dems, Potter touts his endorsement by a group called Evolve California, which also endorsed Adams. He doesn’t mention Evolve in the GOP version, however. Perhaps that’s because in order to get the Evolve nod, he said he favored increasing taxes on the wealthy and increasing property taxes for businesses. Potter’s making a big deal in this campaign about being the experienced candidate. What he’s demonstrating with his mailers is that he has plenty of experience tailoring his message to his audience, no matter what he really thinks.

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