Thursday, March 20, 2003
On Feb. 1, LandWatch Monterey County released a guidebook, Land Use and the General Plan--a "best-policies" guide to planning practices. The 64-page journal offers a series of policy recommendations: It suggests ways to build more affordable housing, encourage alternative transportation, protect property rights and preserve agricultural land. And it gives policy specifics.
One passage suggests wording for a housing proposal: "When newly constructed professional office, industrial, or commercial facilities create 50 or more new jobs, the employers utilizing these new facilities shall be required to help provide, directly or indirectly, new, permanently affordable living quarters." Other policy suggestions define affordable housing and sensitive habitat, discuss housing densities and mixed-use development, recommend the establishment of agricultural land protection boundaries, and urge the county''s leaders to direct growth to cities.
Land Use and the General Plan was released to coincide with the General Plan''s upcoming round of public debates, and with local cities'' efforts to update their own growth blueprints.
Response to the book, however, has been mixed. And it''s been slow in coming from elected officials. That''s okay, says Gary Patton, LandWatch''s executive director.
"This guidebook is not specifically for elected officials," he says. "It''s really for the public at large. It''s aimed at the core of our mission: to promote and inspire sound land use legislation at the city, county, and regional levels through grassroots community action."
However, Patton concedes, local electeds are welcome to lift policy suggestions right from the pages: "For instance, [county supervisors] Dave Potter or Lou Calcagno or Butch Lindley, who may read it and say, ''gee, I am interested in natural resource protection; let me go look at what our General Plan says,'' look at what these very specific suggested policy statements say, and make a motion to adopt this language.''"
Potter or Calcagno may in fact be able to say something along those lines at an upcoming Board of Supervisor''s meeting. They''ve both read Land Use and the General Plan. At press time, however, Lindley hadn''t. Neither had the vast majority of the city councilmembers in Monterey, Salinas and Marina--who received the guidebook weeks ago.
For those who have, reviews seem to fall along LandWatch-loyalty lines.
In general, city and county officials who have read the guidebook say that they like the message. However, some say it''s the messenger--LandWatch--they don''t like.
Supervisor Dave Potter called it an "extremely worthwhile primer," and a "must-read for anyone who wants to get an understanding of the General Plan process."
Lou Calcagno described it as "the perfect type of land-use planning."
"You''ve got motherhood and apple pie here," Calcagno said. "And as a whole, I think our new General Plan is pretty much working within this framework."
Calcagno''s one complaint stems from a section about sprawl. LandWatch recommends keeping rural areas rural and directing future growth into existing cities. "But when you look at Monterey County, and you look at how our agricultural land is set up, the best agricultural ground is around the cities, particularly Salinas," Calcagno says. "If we in the ''50s had set up a plan like this, Salinas would have probably been twice the size it is today."
Supervisor Fernando Armenta says he agrees with the book''s planning principles. But he says he has a hard time trusting LandWatch.
"I want to compliment LandWatch for putting this together" Armenta says. "I think there are some real good ideas in there. But there always has to be an element of concern and caution. They talk about affordable housing, but they took responsibility to kill the Mountain Valley project a couple years ago in Salinas."
Armenta''s beef with LandWatch stems from the group''s efforts to stop an 853-unit residential subdivision proposed for 200 acres of agricultural land on the Sconberg Ranch property at Williams Road and Alisal Street.
Proponents of the project--including the Salinas City Council--said the development would bring much-needed affordable housing to the city, along with a 21-acre park, a child care center and bicycle/pedestrian paths.
In 1999, after a group of Salinas residents secured the required number of signatures to put a referendum on the ballot to stop the subdivision, the developer backed out.
"I want to give the handshake, but I''m also looking at what is coming in the other hand. It''s a fairly good document, but I''ve got a sense of mistrust with this organization," Armenta says.
Supervisor Edith Johnsen didn''t return numerous phone calls for this article.
According to Supervisor Butch Lindley''s aid, Rosie Hernandez, Lindley had not read the guidebook. "And he''s pretty busy," Hernandez said. "I don''t think he''s going to get to it."
In Monterey, not one city councilmember called to comment on the book had read it. Theresa Canepa, when reached by phone, said she would try to review the document and call back. She didn''t. Mayor Dan Albert, when reached, said curtly: "I plan on checking it out." Before the Weekly''s deadline? "I doubt it." The other three didn''t return phone calls.
In Marina, Councilmember Bruce Delgado called it a "very well organized document that''s useful to anyone who''s revising a General Plan, or wants to improve their existing General Plan."
Marina Councilman Michael Morrison couldn''t have been more dismissive: "I looked at it; I glanced at it; I rolled my eyes and I threw it in the garbage. Unless it comes from [LandWatch Deputy Director] Chris Fitz, I put it directly in the garbage can. I personally do not need an out-of-towner like Gary Patton coming into Marina and telling us how to do things.
"However, I admire Chris Fitz so much. His input is very important to me because he is a citizen of Marina."
Marina Mayor Ila Metee-McCutchon didn''t return phone calls.
Salinas Mayor Anna Caballero has a good excuse for not commenting on the guidebook. She''s in Spain, on vacation, no doubt carrying Land Use and the General Plan in her backpack.
In Caballero''s absence, Councilmember Jyl Lutes is acting mayor of Salinas. "In general, I agree with a lot of the guidebook," Lutes says. "A lot of what LandWatch has done is reflected in our General Plan. Salinas is the largest city in the nation that is addressing new urbanism in our General Plan. We''re mixing land use. We''re encouraging pedestrian-oriented communities. We''ve always done high-density development. We''re saying to developers, look, if you''re going to build a development, you''re going to pay traffic-impact fees, library fees, and infrastructure fees. We''re doing a study on affordable housing."
Lutes suggests Monterey share some of its TOT taxes with Salinas to subsidize affordable housing, or finance a transportation project along the Highway 68 corridor. And don''t get her started on Rancho San Juan, a County plan that includes 4,000 homes, 15,000 people, five schools, a 150-room hotel, an 18-hole golf course and commercial and industrial space on 2,500 acres of rolling pastures, oak trees, strawberry fields between Salinas and Prunedale.
"In some parts of Rancho San Juan, that''s one house per acre," she says. "That''s unforgivable. It make me want to pull my hair out. Rancho San Juan is just sprawl."
Calcagno, on the other hand, describes Ranch San Juan as a shining example of new urbanism. He describes neighborhoods of single-family homes, apartments on top of stores and cafes, and low-income condos, surrounded by parks and open space, and all within walking distance of a community center.
"Its going to be the kind of development that Gary [Patton] is pretty well spelling out. The trouble is, instead of being in a present city, you''re pretty much creating a new one--on marginal farmland."
Apparently, even when they''re on the same page, one man''s new urbanism is another woman''s sprawl.