Thursday, October 27, 2005
To Monterey County Supervisor Fernando Armenta, the growth plan that anti-sprawl activists hope to place on June’s election ballot heralds an “all-out political land-use war.”
Armenta, who voted against the last General Plan draft and has been a crucial swing vote on development and housing issues, has refused to take a position on the plan unveiled last Thursday.
If victorious, the Community General Plan Initiative, written by a coalition including LandWatch Monterey County, would limit urban growth in the county’s unincorporated areas. The proposal tackles the most divisive facets of county planning, including the location of future development and the percentage of new low-income housing units to be built over the next 25 years.
Such a voter-approved proposal would trump similar provisions in any general plan passed by supervisors.
Since 1999, the County has spent $6 million in a tumultuous on-again, off-again effort to write a virtual constitution governing future land use. While Armenta says the Board will complete a new general plan by June, many are convinced it will simply rubber-stamp a one-sided document tailored to developers’ interests.
So in a move out of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s political playbook, several organizations have opted to bypass local legislators and take their initiative directly to the people.
Backers of the new proposal include the Sierra Club, North County Citizens Oversight Committee, Citizens for Responsible Growth, Rancho San Juan Opposition Coalition, Concerned Residents of Pebble Beach and Monterey County, and Friends, Artists and Neighbors of Elkhorn Slough.
Supervisor Dave Potter joined the coalition at the County building to announce the plan last week, calling it “right” for the county.
Chris Fitz, LandWatch executive director, says the citizens’ initiative is necessary because the Board of Supervisors’ has failed.
“We have a representative government, but sometimes that effort gets frustrated,” Fitz says. “Supervisors were unable to roll up their sleeves and make the tough decisions, so people need to do what elected officials are unwilling to do.”
• • •
The Community General Plan Initiative ups the ante in an already bitter land-use fight over which hundreds of millions of dollars and the future face of Monterey County are at stake.
It does so by being more prohibitive of urban sprawl than the County’s third general plan draft—GPU-3—which was passed unanimously by the County’s planning commission in May of 2004 and was lauded by LandWatch. GPU-3 also triggered howls of protests by developers.
In June of 2004, three supervisors—including Armenta—voted to kill GPU-3 and restart the planning process.
Pro-development interests may live to regret that decision. While GPU-3 allowed for urban development in eight unincorporated “community areas,” the Community General Plan unveiled last Thursday restricts development to only five unincorporated zones: Boronda, Castroville, Chualar, Fort Ord and Pajaro.
San Lucas, Pine Canyon and Rancho San Juan were dropped from GPU-3’s list.
The anti-sprawl proposal also denies smaller urban developments outside the five “community areas,” while GPU-3 would have allowed them in eight unincorporated “rural centers,” such as the mouth of the Carmel Valley, Prunedale and the River Road area south of Salinas.
To counter criticisms that limiting growth will further squeeze low- and middle-income residents, the Community General Plan calls for 30 percent of any new subdivisions to be built for low-income and working families. GPU-3 required only 20 percent.
The initiative is already sitting badly with people like Tom Carvey, executive director of Common Ground Monterey County.
“I would say it’s an elitist agenda,” says Carvey, member of the so-called Refinement Group that is now helping to draft the fourth general plan proposal since 1999.
“[The Community General Plan Initiative] is being written by people who already have homes and aren’t concerned if other people have them.”
Members of Common Ground and the Refinement Group include the Monterey County Farm Bureau, Salinas United Business Association and Century 21st Action Realty.
Underlying Carvey’s criticisms is the belief that a laissez-faire approach to public planning will end the affordable housing squeeze.
“The way to solve the housing crisis is not by passing edicts…but rather to incentivize the private sector [that builds] housing,” Carvey says. “Right now it’s an unfriendly and restrictive climate for those who provide housing. That’s why the imbalance.”
Mari Kloepell, co-chair of the Elkhorn Slough group, disagrees.
Kloepell says the Board has approved a slew of housing subdivisions across the county, even in places where water resources and roadways can’t realistically sustain any more people.
“The Board of Supervisors has known for years what they need to do,” Kloepell says. “They just won’t do it.”
To illustrate the point, Fitz says that from 2002 until now, the Board gave the OK to 6,300 new housing units in the county. Only 20 percent of these are affordable for people of low or moderate income levels.
The Community General Plan Initiative, like GPU-3, requires a permanent water supply to be in place before new developments are approved, and that adequate roads be built before or at the same time as new developments are erected.
“That’s one of the things the development community hated about GPU-3,” Fitz says.
While common sense planning to some, opponents like Carvey say those two clauses would in many cases spike new-home construction costs to the point of making them financially unfeasible for developers. “That requires an immediate big chunk of money,” Carvey says. “Who’s going to pay for that, local government or developers?”
To get it on the ballot, proponents of the general plan initiative will need to collect approximately 9,000 signatures in a three-month time span—a goal that, given earlier petition efforts, will probably be easily met.
Fitz says they’ve already received pledges of “several hundred thousand dollars” to pay for what promises to be a high-profile, high-stakes campaign.
For his part, Armenta remains suspicious of the Community General Plan Initiative, especially its 30 percent affordable housing requirement.
“Even if you get 10 million signatures, that will not get you one single affordable house,” Armenta says. “Because no developer will want to come in under those kind of restrictions.”
Armenta won’t take a position on the initiative because he says that would ruin his credibility as an overseer of the County’s own general plan. But he admits that a lot is riding on the initiative.
“Each side is already sized up and raising funds,” says Armenta of the impending land-use battle royal. “Everyone’s taking their gloves off now.”
|THEWEEKLYTALLY||64||Number of Darth Mol costumes sold at Party
Wholesale Halloween Super Store in Salinas, making it over
four times more popular than the second most purchased
costumes (Goldilocks, The Pimp). Source: Party Wholesale
Halloween Super Store