Thursday, March 8, 2012
If Mike Weaver wanted to live in an urban area, he says, he would have moved to Salinas or Monterey. As it is, the Highway 68 Coalition chair and lifelong Corral de Tierra resident plans his trips into town, stocks up on staples and enjoys a quiet life in the country with views of wildflower meadows.
But one of those meadows has become a battleground over private property rights, traffic impacts, water use and the California Environmental Quality Act.
On March 6, just a month after the county supervisors voted 3-2 to allow a mixed-use development at lower Corral de Tierra, the Highway 68 Coalition sued the county, the supervisors and developer Omni Resources LLC. The coalition alleges the project violates CEQA and flouts the county’s own General Plan.
The suit, filed in Monterey County Superior Court by attorneys Michael Stamp and Molly Erickson, asks the court to order the supes to set aside their approval of the Corral de Tierra Shopping Center project, order the preparation of adequate environmental documents and award attorney fees.
“Certain areas of the county were designated as rural centers, areas that could be designated for more growth, and Corral de Tierra was specifically left out of that in the General Plan,” Weaver says. “We have traffic impacts, water impacts, visual impacts – all these issues were brought up with the supervisors, and they were rebuffed.”
A key sticking point in the suit is how much water can be pulled from the already overdrafted Toro groundwater basin. The county has put a cap of 9 acre-feet per year on the development, but left the developer with the option of paying a $35,000 fine for every acre-foot the project uses beyond its allotment.
Phelps proposes using a recharge system that would replace water pulled from the basin with rainwater. The supervisors have rejected similar systems proposed for developments in North County, on the grounds that they pose too much uncertainty in an overdrafted basin.
“Our only recourse is the courts,” Weaver says. “It’s not a path we willingly started to go down. Nobody wants to deprive the man of his property rights, but this is out of bounds.”
The man Weaver refers to is Eric Phelps, whose father began buying the Corral de Tierra property nearly 40 years ago with development in mind.
Omni Resources sued the county in 2005 because it was slow to consider the initial development plans, says the project has been “scrutinized to death,” and ended up better for it.
Omni paid more than $300,000 for the project’s environmental impact report, and has reduced the proposed development footprint from more than 120,000 to 99,970 square feet of community-based retail, including a grocery store, coffee shop and services such as a dry cleaner and pharmacy.
“I’ve spent my whole life working on this project, and we’ve done everything right,” Phelps says. “We’ve followed the law and gone through the process. Now we have to pay to defend it in court.”
As of press time, a hearing had yet to be scheduled.