To Not Decide
Supes avoid hard choices at General Plan meeting.
Thursday, November 14, 2002
Monterey County Supervisors were expected to do some heavy lifting at their Nov. 12 meeting. On the agenda were tough decisions on some weighty parts of the county''s 20-year blueprint for growth-including where to build new housing, which landowners'' re-zoning requests to consider, and how to sustain the agriculture industry.
The Supes stalled. They directed staff to reconsider the regional housing allocation and to work with Monterey County cities on a plan to build new housing. They unanimously agreed to discuss several recommendations intended to boost the viability of the ag industry. And they pushed the final re-zoning decisions to a Nov. 26 meeting. At that meeting, supervisors will also approve new boundaries for rural growth areas.
"This does halt the forwarding motion we had hoped to take today," said Supervisor Dave Potter, voting with Supervisor Judy Pennycook against the motion.
Supervisors Fernando Armenta, Edith Johnsen and Lou Calcagno said they wanted more time to review the re-zoning requests, which could put hundreds of expensive homes on prime farmland. Calcagno, the self-described "swing vote on this," made it clear he would not support all of the landowner requests.
"On some of these, I have no doubt that I will have major concerns," he said.
Armenta''s and Johnsen''s votes on rezoning requests have generally been more development-friendly.
"Staff''s recommendations say these [property owner requests] don''t fit with the plan''s general principles-and they don''t," said LandWatch''s Gary Patton during a short break in the meeting. "The board needs to say no.
"This was the day to make the final choices, and they have essentially deferred the final choices to the Board next year."
County staffers have yet to begin rewriting the final draft of the General Plan or the environmental impact report-both of which will be subject to additional public review and approval by the supervisors.
In other words, the Board is not going to meet its ambitious year-end deadline for the new plan.
In January, Lockwood vintner and grower Butch Lindley will replace Judy Pennycook as a new supervisor. Because he has close ties to big campaign spenders in the ag and wine industries, some environmentalists worry that Lindley may lend a sympathetic ear to those who want to throw out the plan-in particular the Farm Bureau and land-use attorneys.
At the Nov. 12 meeting, however, both Potter and Calcagno maintained their commitment to preserving the "guiding principles" of the General Plan-directing growth into urban areas, protecting ag land and open space and building affordable housing.
Also at the Nov. 12 meeting, the Supervisors held a public meeting on several recommendations to the General Plan put forward by Calcagno.
Over the past few months, Calcagno''s been meeting with representatives from the Nature Conservancy, the American Land Trust, the Growers/Shippers Association and members of the Cattlemen''s Association.
"Both the environmentalists'' concerns and the major agricultural concerns have to do with preserving farmland, and preserving the viability of agriculture in the General Plan," Calcagno says.
Their ideas intended to boost the ag industry include: drafting a county "right to farm" ordinance, creating a separate planning commission to handle agriculture-related projects, and allowing clustered homes and transfers of development rights on some farmland properties.
The recommendations also suggest defining routine ag activities (to clarify that farmers and ranchers do not need permits for such activities) and agricultural services, such as coolers and loading docks.
"They agriculture community was very concerned that kind of everyday ag activities would be regulated by this General Plan, and that''s not the current situation," says attorney Bill Yates, a consultant with the Nature Conservancy.
Calcagno also wants to revise the draft plan to require buffers between ag and non-ag lands.
"You''ve got to have good buffers because if you don''t, you make it miserable for agriculture," Calcagno says. "The Farm Bureau wants a rolling buffer, so as development moves forward, the buffer moves. Well, that only allows you to become another Santa Clara Valley, because you will continually grow."
The Monterey County Farm Bureau wouldn''t sign on to Calcagno''s recommendations, although the group''s Web site says the Farm Bureau wants a new General Plan that will "enhance, encourage and promote a viable agriculture industry instead of imposing new restrictions or ''preserving'' land."
"The Farm Bureau has a different philosophy and agenda," Calcagno says. "I don''t criticize them for their beliefs."
Farm Bureau executive director Bob Perkins could not be reached for comment.