Thursday, November 5, 2009
It’s 8pm on Election Night, and some 75 party-goers at Hola!, a Mexican restaurant in the Carmel Barnyard, nosh greasy appetizers and sip neon margaritas.
“It’s gonna be close,” says G supporter Chris Roberts.
Town council candidate Karin Strasser Kauffman isn’t willing to guess the outcome. “I’m not a gambling woman… and I wouldn’t gamble with Carmel Valley,” she says with a laugh. “I really hope it goes well tonight. It’s our last chance to do something before the valley changes.”
At 8:30pm, the early results are in. With 2,855 votes counted, the tally is 47.6 percent Yes, 52.4 percent No.
Council candidate Amy Anderson frowns and slides on oversized plastic butterfly-frame glasses, handing an equally goofy pair of sparkly dollar-sign shades to fellow pro-town candidate Larry Bacon.
“We’re celebrating now in case we don’t want to celebrate later,” she says glumly. “I fiercely want to still win, but it’s an uphill battle, so I try not to get my hopes up.”
“I don’t like the way it started,” Bacon says. “We’re not conceding yet.”
Council candidate Glenn Robinson leans against the bar, which is pumping out margarita pitchers, and describes his mood as “nerve-wracked.” His comrade in townhood, Mike McMillan, seems giddy as he snaps photos. “I’m fine,” McMillan says. “Whatever they show now, good or bad or indifferent, is not gonna be the final results. I’m just happy for it to come to an end.”
Rumors of a wild boar feast are unsubstantiated. There’s not even an appetizer buffet for the wine-sipping anti-G crowd of about 40 at Los Laureles Lodge, near Carmel Valley Village. The campaign ended $8,000 in the hole, so the party fund is thin.
Carmen Martin says she was initially neutral on the issue of townhood, but after seven years attending meetings on both sides, she’s seen too much undemocratic behavior by G supporters. “On the Yes side, there’s been bullying and name-calling,” she says.
“WE’RE CELEBRATING NOW IN CASE WE DON’T WANT TO CELEBRATE LATER.”
At 9:45pm, Martin seems surprised the No camp – which raised about $30,000 – is ahead. “I’m frankly shocked that with the $220,000 [the Yes campaign] spent, they’re not at 95 percent,” she says.
Anti-G council candidate Lawrence Samuels has more faith. “I thought that we’d win by about 60 percent,” he says. “We’re at 52, but a win is a win.”
Fellow candidate Scott Dick, a Democrat who hosts a political talk show on KRXA radio, complains the anti-G campaign has been falsely portrayed as conservative. “The Democratic Party has decided to endorse Measure G without talking to anyone from the opposition,” he says.
Ernie Bizzozero, also a candidate, bemoans what he describes as bandwagon liberal support for G, including from U.S. Rep. Sam Farr, Assemblyman Bill Monning, Supervisor Jane Parker, LandWatch and the Sierra Club.
Near 10pm, the crowd hushes to hear a Fox Central Coast newscast. The tally remains about 48 to 52 percent against G. A few tepid claps break the hush, but several women at a nearby table are still nervous. “That’s so close,” one says.
Turnout was so “overwhelming,” the newcaster reports, that one polling place ran out of ballots. “That’s not good,” Samuels mutters.
Dick says he hopes to never see incorporation on another ballot. “This is it,” he says. “Glenn [Robinson] promised not to do it again. We don’t believe him.”
The Carmel Valley incorporation battle has been more than a decade in the making, and on Election Night, feelings on both sides are still raw. It seems more conversation swirls around the opposing campaign’s tactics than the issues: Pro-G folks complain about foul play with the campaign signs, while anti-G campers swap conspiracy stories about how the pro-G campaign raised so much money, garnered so many endorsements and got such good press.
The results didn’t change: With 4,164 votes tallied, Measure G went down 48 to 52 percent. The defeat made the council vote moot, but if G had passed, the five-candidate pro-town slate would have swept it.
What remains are the sore feelings among neighbors who are, at least in some respects, strikingly similar.
Judging by the victory parties, both sides have been led by mostly senior, mostly white, mostly middle – to upper-class folks who don’t want rampant development‚ hence the nearly identical slogans: “Keep Carmel Valley Rural” on the Yes side, “Keep Our Valley Rural” on the No.
That mutual love of the sticks may present a healing opportunity. Just weeks before the election, the state water board adopted a cease-and-desist order that sharply stacks the odds against new developments – in large part to protect the Carmel River that runs through the valley, regardless of townhood.
If residents can become so deeply divided over what makes Carmel Valley rural, maybe they can band together to keep it that way.