Thursday, October 12, 2006
A rebellion is afoot in Carmel Valley. The community (or at least a good part of it) wants to secede from the County. In all likelihood, local residents will soon vote on whether to incorporate, and Carmel Valley may become its own town, with its own Town Council and policies and codes. This decision will change the face Monterey County. Ultimately, it’s about land use, and a referendum of sorts on County Supervisors’ pro-development votes.
For example: Next month, County Supervisors will vote on the September Ranch project, a 109-home project on 891 hilly acres near the mouth of Carmel Valley. There are questions about the project’s water supply and concerns about its traffic impacts. It’s a fight that’s gone on for a decade, with some Carmel Valley residents accusing the County of hiding documents and cutting the public out of the process.
Attorney Tony Lombardo routinely tells the Supes that September Ranch is a good, responsible development with plenty of water. Developer Jim Morgens likes to say that it’s really a conservation project, preserving 91 percent of the property and saving 95 percent of the trees. (He doesn’t mention that the homes would be scattered throughout the entire property with no large, contiguous parcel of land set aside for preservation.)
In November, the Supes will vote on September Ranch. And it’s a safe bet that the board will approve the development—4-1, with Supervisor Dave Potter, who represents Carmel Valley, dissenting. Possibly Supervisor Lou Calcagno will join Potter for a 3-2 vote. Regardless, the project will get the green light.
So it goes with land-use decisions in Carmel Valley. It’s an unincorporated area, which means that the County Board of Supervisors makes the decisions to approve or deny planned developments. But despite the area’s chronic water shortage, traffic congestion and limited infrastructure, the board never votes to deny. More expensive homes and hotel units continue to be built.
• • •
On Oct. 18, the County’s Local Agency Formation Commission will hold a public hearing on the proposal to incorporate Carmel Valley. Executive Officer Kate McKenna has recommended that the commission approve the incorporation, set a town boundary, and ask County Supervisors to set a special election to let Carmel Valley residents vote on the incorporation proposal. Should voters decide to form their own local government, then they would also elect a Town Council.
It’s expected that the commission—made up of city councilmembers, county supervisors, special district board members and members of the public—will approve the incorporation proposal and call for an election.
The wild card is Lombardo. The high-powered land-use attorney represents several big development interests at the mouth of the Carmel Valley, near Highway 1. The County has been quick to approve expansions and new buildings for Lombardo’s clients, but a Carmel Valley Town Council might not be as go-go growth.
Lombardo may be able to convince LAFCO to cut the mouth of the Valley out of the proposed town’s boundaries. In May, Lombardo sent a letter to LAFCO on behalf of Carmel Mission Inn, Barnyard Shopping Center, Carmel Rancho Shopping Center, Rancho Cañada Golf Club, Quail Lodge and Tehema saying that his clients do not want to be included in the proposed new town of Carmel Valley. In the letter, Lombardo says even allowing a vote on incorporation would likely violate state law.
Four years ago, volunteers began circulating a petition to ask LAFCO to conduct a feasibility study for a proposed town of Carmel Valley. They collected more than 2,500 signatures, which is about 35 percent of registered voters in Carmel Valley.
The three neighborhoods with the highest rate of signatures were all at the mouth of the Valley, says Glenn Robinson, president of Carmel Valley Association. “In Del Mesa, Riverwood and Arroyo Carmel, all had 50 percent or more of registered voters. Cutting out the mouth of the valley would deny them their democratic right.
“It’s about democracy. We have lost our voice, because in all land-use decisions, four of the five supervisors are unresponsive to Carmel Valley needs.”
• • •
According to McKenna’s report, Carmel Valley can be fiscally feasible as a town. Nor will the breakaway bankrupt the County’s coffers. Incorporation proponents signed an agreement with Monterey County to make a “revenue neutrality mitigation payment” to the County for 10 years.
Municipal service levels will be at least as good as they are now, according to the report, and in some cases better. “For example,” it says, “with the planning and building department located within the community, residents will have more convenient access to these services as well as a greater degree of local control.”
LAFCO’S MEETING TO CONSIDER THE INCORPORATION PROPOSAL WILL BEGIN AT 6PM IN THE BOARD OF SUPERVISORS CHAMBERS, 168 W. ALISAL ST., FIRST FLOOR, SALINAS. 754-5838.