Possible grading violations at Rancho San Carlos raise questions about county land policies.
Thursday, May 27, 1999
Has golf course construction by developers of the Rancho San Carlos (RSC) development project in Carmel Valley violated erosion control and stream alteration agreements with the county and the California Department of Fish and Game?
That''s the question the county planning department and the District Attorney''s office will have to answer when Fish and Game files a formal report with the district attorney this week.
At issue is whether RSC failed to take sufficient erosion control measures during golf course construction this past winter, allowing soil runoff into feeder streams that flow into the Carmel River. Of concern to fisheries experts with Fish and Game and the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District is whether the heightened water turbidity will impact the Carmel River steelhead, a federally listed species under the Endangered Species Act.
"One of the conditions [of the stream alteration agreement] is that no pollution or erosion should affect the water course," explains Capt. Tom Pedersen of Fish and Game''s education and enforcement unit. "If there is a determination that is occurring, we can refer it to the district attorney."
According to Pedersen, on April 27 Fish and Game biologists conducted an assessment of the effect of sedimentation on aquatic life at RSC.
"Our people did find minor violations and suggestions were made to correct them," says Pedersen. "[RSC] personnel agreed to do that and some adjustments were made, but the bottom line is compliance."
"We received information that turbidity from Las Garzas and San Clemente creeks were most impacted," notes Pat Coulston, a Region 3 fisheries biologist with state Fish and Game.
"Last time I was up there on April 14, there was still evidence of turbidity and erosion. We''ve been aware of the problem and noticed it ourselves since early winter, but I don''t think the turbidity level is high enough to cause impacts that would be directly observed or could be reflected in [changes] in [fish] growth, feeding rates and food supply. I spoke with [RSC] directly about the arrangement of some of the facilities and how they ought to be placed to improve the situation. They''ve been cooperative."
If RSC did violate Fish and Game regulations, the district attorney could file misdemeanor charges against the developers. According to Pedersen, the district attorney has a year to file charges, and upon review of the report could return it for further investigation or reject it for lack of evidence.
"We are not alleging there are violations, and it would be inappropriate to release anything prior to the DA reviewing the report," adds Pedersen. "As far as we''re concerned relative to Fish and Game violations, we will pursue this through the DA''s office regardless of the actions of any other agency. I presume there is a grading permit and we will be in touch with the county to coordinate our efforts. We''ll treat this as an ongoing investigation, but the ultimate decision rests with the DA."
In the aftermath of flooding and erosion problems two years ago from Clint Eastwood''s Ca¤ada Woods North project, and this past winter''s problems at RSC, the big question county officials must resolve is whether these erosion problems are the result of poor county enforcement, improper mitigation by developers, or a matter of the county violating its own rules and failing to consider whether massive grading projects should be prohibited outright during the rainy season.
Despite ongoing complaints since last February over grading for the RSC golf course, as well as a site inspection by the county, Fish and Game, and the state regional water quality control board, RSC has not been cited for any violations.
It is the failure on the part of regulatory agencies to enforce construction codes that has RSC neighbor Bruce Dormody, who met with the county last week, so frustrated.
Dormody cites several county code conditions that he says both RSC and the county itself have violated. They include: "Soil disturbance activities shall be limited to the period between April 15 and Oct. 15, unless winter season operating conditions of the erosion control ordinance are met and in place," "...drainage controls must be maintained by the permittee and/or property owner as necessary to achieve their purpose throughout the life of the project," and "The Director of Building Inspection shall stop operations during periods of inclement weather if he determines the erosion problems are not being controlled adequately."
"When the county approved the plan what happened is exactly what we predicted would happen," says Dormody. "Overall we had a mild winter but still had erosion problems.
"If [RSC] had followed the mitigation and erosion control plan it wouldn''t have been nearly as bad," adds Dormody. "They were supposed to cover all exposed dirt with mulch and straw, but they had dozens of acres wide open, and there is still muddy water coming out of one drainage into San Clemente Creek. We have a huge concern next winter. Nothing we have seen indicates they will change their ways."
As far as possible county violations are concerned, county planner Wanda Hickman told the Weekly that the planning department will be reviewing site photos and other agency reports to determine whether any violations have occurred.
"We''re going back and looking at what Monterey County approved under the comprehensive development plan in conjunction with other agencies," says Hickman. "We want to make sure if grading continues next winter season there won''t be any problems."
According to RSC Project Manager Don Wilcoxon, despite questions and concerns over erosion control, RSC has done a good job minimizing runoff.
"Erosion control measures were in place, and we were found to be in full compliance," says Wilcoxon, who indicated that RSC expects to complete golf course construction by next winter. "I think we''re doing an extraordinary job on erosion control."
As far as Dormody is concerned, however, neither RSC nor the county acted responsibly in mitigating and minimizing erosion.
In terms of resolving what seems to be a chronic problem with development projects in Carmel Valley, Dormody suggests the county should reevaluate its policies and procedures.
"If the county is overwhelmed by projects and can''t adequately inspect them, then stop approving projects or hire more inspectors," says Dormody, "but don''t let them go ahead with nothing."