Where Did The Love Go?
The honeymoon between Common Ground and Land Watch appears to be over.
Thursday, August 22, 2002
Last February, two groups that usually find themselves on opposite ends of the land-use spectrum shocked Monterey County by issuing a joint set of development principles for the next 20 years.
Board members from the groups Land Watch and Common Ground called the partnership "spontaneous."
Common Ground members had in the past called Land Watch''s board members and staffers "no growthers." Common Ground, on the other hand, bills itself as a "smart-growth" group. This has meant that the group is more likely to take a pro-development stance, reflective of the interests of its members-builders, vintners, hospitality industry leaders and ag companies.
Naysayers said the union would never last. It looks like the naysayers were right.
At Common Ground''s Board of Directors meeting on Thursday, Aug. 22, the Board will discuss its precarious agreement with Land Watch, according to Chair Sig Christierson. Judging from recent missives from the Common Ground office, it will be a long way from the love-is-in-the-air press conference held six months ago, on the steps of the county courthouse.
After agreeing last week to talk to the Weekly about the two groups'' shaky alliance, Christierson changed his mind and declined to comment until after the board''s meeting.
Back in February, Common Ground boardmember John Anderson said the groups agreed that they should work toward consensus. "We felt we could be more effective with the county if we approached them with a unified proposition rather then show up as two groups arguing about everything," he said at the time.
And so Land Watch and Common Ground took the plunge.
Together, they drafted five pages-plus maps-of "Recommended Principles For Conservation and Development." They identified conservation lands and agreed that future subdivisions should look to city-centered growth and infill development-all concepts that fit nicely with county''s draft General Plan.
Soon thereafter, the news surfaced that Common Ground had received $50,000 from the Packard Foundation "for participation in arriving at consensus with conservation interests on key issues relating to the Monterey County General Plan Update process."
Jean Driscoll, a consultant to the Packard Foundation, says the money is not contingent upon playing nice. She also says that in her estimation, the draft General Plan compares favorably with the principles initially advocated by Land Watch and Common Ground.
Land Watch also benefits from Packard funds, although its monies aren''t limited to working with Common Ground. Most recently Land Watch received a two-year, $350,000 grant to educate county residents about land-use planning.
The honeymoon quickly came to an end.
On April 26, Land Watch executive Director Gary Patton sent a letter to the Planning Commission praising the County''s draft growth plan. "I am pleased to report that [Land Watch''s and Common Ground''s] jointly adopted principles are very much consistent with the Draft GPU [General Plan Update]," he wrote.
But at a subsequent public meeting, Common Ground reps attacked Patton''s letter.
"Common Ground felt that we indicated that they supported the General Plan, and they didn''t," Patton says.
Common Ground also demanded that Land Watch remove the letter from its Web site. Land Watch acquiesced.
Later, the Monterey County Farm Bureau issued a statement saying that the Land Watch and Common Ground Recommended Principals "constitutes a taking of private property rights" that would not be supported by the Farm Bureau. Some farmers who sit on both boards, like Chris Bunn and Don Nucci, quickly fell in line with the Farm Bureau.
The Independent Growers Association told the Supes that they, too, disagreed with the joint recommendations.
In a July 9 letter, Christierson, who also acts as a spokesperson for the group, reversed his earlier position and blasted the draft General Plan. He didn''t name names, but blamed the "GPU authors and no-growth advocates," for hijacking the plan.
Meanwhile "ranchers, farmers, agribusiness, labor, the wine industry, tourism and hospitality ... attack the GPU''s disregard for their issues and concerns," he wrote.
At the Board of Supervisor''s first General Plan Update hearing that same week, Keith Roberts, president of the Independent Growers Association, handed the Supes a petition asking them to scrap the Plan, and allow a "broad-based citizen''s advisory committee" to rewrite it. Members of the Hospitality Association, the Chamber, the Farm Bureau, the Vintners and Growers Association and, yes, Common Ground, quickly rallied behind the idea while Land Watch urged the Supes to stick to the Plan.
Patton says that many South County farmers and growers oppose the Plan specifically because of its policies aimed at avoiding sprawl and recommending infill development.
"Common Ground agreed with us on a set of principles," he says. "but many of the people who don''t like the General Plan don''t like it because it is consistent with the Land Watch-Common Ground principles," he says.