Thursday, March 18, 1999
On March 17, 1873, 47-year-old Matt Tarpy was lynched at the site of what is now called (and misspelled) "Tarpey Flats" adjacent to Highway 68 near the current Monterey Airport. An angry mob of mostly Watsonville residents decided to take justice into their own hands after Tarpy was found guilty of murdering his neighbor Sarah Nicholson. The county coroner determined that Tarpy had fired 11 gunshots into Nicholson after a series of arguments concerning land and property rights.
Although Monterey County residents have taken a more civilized approach to resolving disputes over property rights and land use issues, passions continue to run high, and those very same tensions that led to Nicholson''s and Tarpy''s untimely demise are very much in evidence today.
A case in point is the Monterey County Board of Supervisors'' approval last fall of the September Ranch development project, which ignited a shockwave of resentment and antagonism among Carmel Valley residents over the board''s seeming indifference to residents'' concerns about the relentless pace of development in the Valley.
Why, residents wonder, does the board continue to approve major development projects in Carmel Valley in the face of inadequate water supplies, an ever-increasing loss of open space, and growing road-safety concerns?
While some would argue that lynching is too good for some members of the Board of Supervisors, in response to the board''s approval of September Ranch, a group of leading Carmel Valley residents have decided to take matters into their own hands and investigate the possibility of incorporating Carmel Valley as an independent city in control of its own destiny.
Representing a broad demographic of Carmel Valley''s estimated 13,000 residents living from the Cachagua area in upper Carmel Valley to the mouth of the Valley near Highway 1, the 21-member "Carmel Valley Action Team" has been at work for the past four months hoping to garner official endorsements and residents'' support for incorporation.
"We are an apolitical group having nothing to do with growth or no-growth, just the issue of self-determination," says one group organizer who agreed to speak with Coast Weekly on condition of anonymity. "There''s a lot of controversy now and people are concerned. The purpose of all this is to see if we can create a better quality of life and a vision for where Carmel Valley is going in the next 20 years. It''s an empowerment thing. If incorporation makes sense then it makes sense, and if not, at least people made an honest effort."
Although the incorporation of Carmel Valley is not a new concept, and has been seriously studied in the past, many Carmel Valley residents say a confluence of economic and political factors has now made incorporation not only a viable possibility, but a critical necessity.
"I''ve been in favor of incorporation for a long time and my feeling is we need to have local control with regard to planning and zoning," says Peter Coakley, a 25-year resident of Carmel Valley and owner of Valley Lodge. "The county completely ignores the mini-master plan we created in 1987 for the Village, and I''m concerned about the lack of direction for the Village.
In terms of taking the formal steps necessary to incorporate Carmel Valley, 25 percent of the residents who would live within the proposed city limits must sign and submit a petition to the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) of Monterey County, which is in charge of approving annexations and the formation of special service districts. The commission is composed of two supervisors, two mayors and one citizen representative.
LAFCO would then order a fiscal and environmental analysis to review the feasibility and environmental impacts of incorporation. Public hearings would then be held, at which time the LAFCO board could make a recommendation for approval.
According to Jim Colangelo, LAFCO executive officer and principal administrative analyst for Monterey County, under current state law and to help garner county support for the move, incorporation would have to be revenue neutral, with the new city only getting revenues in an amount equal to the service responsibility it is assuming. Excess revenues would have to be shared with the county.
"The most important factor is the financial feasibility, what services the city would be taking over and what revenues they have," observes Colangelo. "LAFCO would also want to look closely at the boundaries to see that they are logical in terms of their impact on other agencies, whether county or special districts.
The last cities to incorporate in Monterey County, according to Colangelo, were Marina in 1975, and Seaside and Del Rey Oaks in the ''50s.
Subsequent to approval by LAFCO, the incorporation proposal would then move to the Board of Supervisors, which would hold additional public hearings. Barring any major objections, the board would then call an election which would require a simple majority within the proposed city limit for final approval.
There is a wonderful degree of irony in the fact that incorporation has emerged at this time with such seriousness and legitimacy. For longtime Valley residents like Coakley, incorporation should have occurred decades ago, before huge development projects like Carmel Valley Ranch, Rancho San Carlos, Quail Lodge and Meadows, and Clint Eastwood''s Ca¤ada Woods projects devoured so much land and water, and placed such a burden on local infrastructure.
Of course, whether the "city" of Carmel Valley would have rejected such projects is debatable, seeing as how "hometown" politicians can be as arrogant and shortsighted as those county officials who have antagonized so many Carmel Valley residents.
The ultimate irony in the current push for incorporation is the fact that given the huge financial resources needed to run a city, incorporation is now realistic only because of the substantial taxes generated by many of the resort and housing development projects that have been approved in the past.
"In my opinion we are about two years away to a sufficient tax base," says Glenn Gurries, owner of the Robles Del Rio Lodge located above Carmel Valley Village. "With all the upgrades going on and wine tasting rooms moving in, there will be a substantial tax base, and in my opinion I think Carmel Valley will generate more [tax revenues] than Carmel."
The upgrades Gurries refers to, all of which will add greatly to the current 10.5 percent Transient Occupancy Taxes (TOT) include Robles Del Rio, which is adding new rooms and a spa, the soon-to-be-opened Bernardus Lodge replacing the former Carmel Valley Inn, and Carmel Valley Ranch, which is also adding new rooms and a health spa.
Based on a cursory review of TOT taxes generated by major Carmel Valley hostelries between June 30 and December 31 of this past year--all of which now go directly to the county--there may be a sufficient tax base to operate an incorporated Carmel Valley.
Just under $2 million in TOT was generated by some of the top getaways in Carmel Valley, including $835,000 from Carmel Valley Ranch, $493,000 from Quail Lodge, $84,000 from Stonepine, and just under $160,000 from the Los Laureles, Valley, and Robles Del Rio lodges combined.
Whether these totals, not to mention property and sales taxes, and future revenues from Carmel Valley''s growing wine industry will generate a sufficient tax base to run a city remains problematic for Carmel Valley Property Owners Association President George Boehlert and the association''s 588 members.
"People in the Valley feel they''re a major cash cow for the county and are exporting a lot more money to the county than they''re receiving in services," says Boehlert, who indicated that the association, while reserving judgment on the merits of incorporation, does support further inquiry into the matter. "Frankly we don''t know enough about all the issues, and cost would obviously be a big consideration.
"None of us have a good feeling on the cost, and from the financial standpoint there are benefits and drawbacks. We want a balanced study done to give us better grounds to make a decision."
As far as Glenn Gurries is concerned, incorporation is inevitable given Valley residents'' level of frustration with the county, and the desire of local entrepreneurs to expand and enhance their businesses in a more responsive political environment.
"The advantage [of incorporation] is if there are issues that come up, we don''t have to go to Salinas and rely on the Board of Supervisors," says Gurries. "We can rely on our own mayor or city manager and talk to just one person. I like to think that in Salinas we can talk to Dave Potter, but he''s only one vote out of five and that''s a limiting factor."
For longtime Carmel Valley resident and political activist Charity Crane, local disenchantment with county government has been brewing for a very long time.
"When I used to go to supervisors'' meetings 30 years ago, they paid more attention to public opinion and would defer to the supervisor in the district," says Crane, who thinks secession of the Monterey Peninsula from the rest of the county, a concept raised by Carmel mayor Ken White in the immediate aftermath of September Ranch''s approval, might make even more sense than Carmel Valley''s incorporation. "Now what they''re doing is voting based on how much money it will bring into the county."
As Carmel Valley''s sole political representative in the county, District 5 Supervisor Dave Potter shares residents'' concerns and frustrations with the county.
"I couldn''t sympathize more with the desire and interest to incorporate," says Potter, "and I can understand Carmel Valley [residents complaining] there''s only one elected representative. I try my best to represent their interests."
Although Potter supports incorporation in principle, he nevertheless feels incorporation faces tremendous obstacles.
"You need to look at revenues and the fiscal basis for incorporation and what kind of government it would support," explains Potter. "You have to structure and fund a bureaucracy and that isn''t cheap."
Based on interviews with longtime Carmel Valley residents and civic leaders, the most complex, problematic and potentially divisive issue regarding incorporation, is where the boundary lines for the "city" of Carmel Valley would be drawn.
Based on the Carmel Valley Master Plan, the Valley''s boundary begins right at Highway 1 extending all the way just past Carmel Valley Village. At this point there is no consensus, or much research on whether a proposed city should include the mouth of the valley, or begin somewhere at Mid-Valley and extend to the village or just a few miles beyond to Cachagua Grade Road.
Additional areas that could be included within the city boundaries are the Cachagua area, and the residential areas at the top of Laureles Grade Road.
"What the boundaries are, I don''t know the answer to that," says Coakley. "I don''t think voters at the mouth of the valley would like being identified with Carmel Valley, but if we don''t incorporate the entire valley it might not be affordable."
"I think [the feasibility of incorporation] would depend where the lines are drawn," adds Coakley, who explains that where the boundary lines are drawn will depend in part on the potential tax revenues within those boundaries.
"If you include Mid-Valley and start there and include the Village, you''ve got Carmel Valley Ranch and heavy density down there for a tax base, not to mention TOT, plus the inns in the village.
"The wineries themselves are not enough of a tax base but I wouldn''t be surprised to see more of them. We''re an appellation and that''s good for business. The more wineries, the better for everyone. I think it''s a good focus and will draw visitors to the Valley and Village. It''s a very positive thing."
Gurries agrees with Coakley''s assessment about the potential boundary lines, and says that although it would be desirable to include the Barnyard and Crossroads shopping centers within the proposed city, the focal point for incorporation would likely be the Village.
"I think people talking about incorporating as a city are oriented toward Carmel Valley Village and not looking to the Cachagua or Carmel Rancho," says Gurries.
One clue as to where the actual boundary lines would be drawn are provided by longtime Carmel Valley civic leader and business owner Randy Randazzo, who feels incorporation is still somewhat premature.
According to Randazzo, an incorporated Carmel Valley should be formed along the existing boundaries of what is designated as the Carmel Valley Recreation and Park District, which was founded in 1985 and approved by LAFCO.
Those boundaries encompass an area bordered by Garland Ranch to the east, north to the top of Laureles Grade Road, to the Sleepy Hollow development two miles east of the Village. Randazzo says that boundary is identical to the boundaries of the Carmel Valley Fire Prevention District, which by charter has vested powers over lighting, parking, police, sewer and fire services. Should incorporation move forward, Randazzo feels the CVFPD could form the basis for providing basic public services.
Based on his personal experiences with other incorporation efforts,
Carmel Valley Village resident Zan Henson, a former candidate for District 5 supervisor, says the financial costs for analyzing incorporation can be daunting.
"I am concerned about the expense of it," says Henson. "I have been involved in incorporation efforts elsewhere [in the state] and just the study to do an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and financial analysis can run a $100,000 or so. I''m a little skeptical it''s financially feasible.
"The key is going to be finding someone or some entity to pay for the twin financial and environmental feasibility studies. The way it works is if somebody will pony up the money and incorporation goes through, they can be reimbursed from city tax money. That''s how developers have gone forward with incorporation with new towns in other parts of the state."
As the move towards the possible incorporation of Carmel Valley proceeds over the coming months, it appears as though the battle lines will be drawn at the mouth of Carmel Valley. Without the additional sales and property taxes provided by homes and businesses at the Crossroads and Barnyard shopping centers, the financial basis for incorporation would remain tenuous at best. For Randazzo, the viability of incorporation will rise or fall with the future of the Carmel Valley''s growing wine industry.
"At this particular time it does not make sense," insists Randazzo. "In my opinion, the majority of businesses at the mouth of the Valley would not be willing to sign for incorporation, but I have proclaimed for the last six or eight months that we in Carmel Valley will be the future Napa or Sonoma of Monterey County. When that time comes, perhaps the tax base will be strong enough to support incorporation." cw