Thursday, March 6, 2008
The draft environmental impact report for the Rancho Cañada Village Specific Plan has received a flood of critical comments from environmental and community groups, with many calling for the DEIR to be rejected and reworked.
The proposed subdivision would place 281 new units, parks and open space on 81 acres just east of the intersection of Highway 1 and Carmel Valley Road. Half of the new housing would be designated affordable.
One serious concern arises from a draft county health risk assessment that wasn’t included in the DEIR but was leaked to The Open Monterey Project. The assessment concludes that construction on the proposed subdivision poses significant cancer risks to students and staff at neighboring Carmel Middle School—an issue the DEIR fails to address.
County planner Jacqueline Onciano says the document was a first draft that was being revised because the air pollution control district deemed the numbers too conservative.
But the project’s opponents aren’t convinced. “There’s no subdivision that is worth risking cancer for our school kids,” says Carmel Valley Association President Emeritus Glenn Robinson.
Attorney Michael Stamp, representing TOMP, identifies a host of other problems with the DEIR. The language is vague and confusing, he claims, and details on water rights are fuzzy. He says the document doesn’t analyze the impacts of piping runoff into the Carmel River. It also fails to detail the project’s contributions to climate change, or the impacts of climate change—such as more drought, storms, sea level rise and erosion—on the project.
The DEIR underestimates the amount of fill needed for the project, fails to identify where it would come from and ignores mitigation for the traffic caused by trucks hauling it, Stamp writes. At least 200,000 cubic yards of fill would create a berm along the property’s north side, which could block the river’s flow through its historic floodway—potentially threatening the Hacienda Carmel retirement community.
“I think the DEIR, frankly, needs to be re-written and re-circulated,” he says. “There’s a sense of rush to this document, that it wasn’t carefully vetted and analyzed. This firm is capable of much better work.”
The CVA, Carmel Unified School District, LandWatch, League of Women Voters of the Monterey Peninsula and Sierra Club’s Ventana chapter also submitted critical comments. Most urge the county to send the DEIR back for revision. The Sierra Club questions whether proposed mitigation measures for special status plants, animals and habitats are sufficient. County resident Jane Atkins claims the project could impact an existing wildlife corridor between the Carmel River, the Hilton Bialek Habitat and the open space north of Carmel Valley Road.
CVA President John Dalessio, who chairs the water district’s Carmel River Advisory Committee, says the DEIR fails to address the Carmel Valley Master Plan’s moratorium on subdivisions and does a shoddy job of evaluating the potential for floods and landslides. “Everybody in the county should be concerned about this project,” he says. “The liability that could attach to this could bankrupt the county.”
Dalessio blames ICF Jones & Stokes, the firm that prepared the DEIR, for the document’s shortcomings. “This is a very weak EIR, and frankly I expect them to withdraw it,” he says.
ICF Jones & Stokes spokesperson Lindsey Litton says she’s not at liberty to speak about the project.
Onciano acknowledges that some parts of the DEIR can be improved but says Jones & Stokes did an adequate job with the information the applicant supplied. “The project in concept is a good project,” she says. “The environmental impacts have to be balanced, and that’s what we’re trying to do with the EIR.”
She feels that by picking on the little details, the project’s opponents are being unfair. “It’s kind of like they’re trying to sabotage the project and make it look as bad as it could,” she says. “It’s shameful.”
After making its way through three committees and the Planning Commission, the DEIR will land before the county Board of Supervisors. Supervisor Dave Potter, for one, wants more information about the project’s potential flood risk to the retirement community and the air quality risk to the middle school.
“It does look to me that [those] two items went under-addressed if not missed entirely,” he says. “If the planning staff determines that those items have not been sufficiently analyzed, those portions ought to be re-done and recirculated.”