General Plan: Top Ten Myths
The team in charge of the document that will guide growth for the next 20 years says the process is being derailed by a bunch of lies.
Thursday, July 31, 2003
Anyone who has been following the General Plan Update process knows that urban (and rural) legends about the County''s plan for future growth abound. Attend every General Plan-related public meeting and Bill Gates will send you a check for a million dollars. The latest draft of the document exploded, spewing baby tarantulas everywhere (hence, the CD-ROM version). Chant "Bloody Mary" 13 times in front of a candlelit mirror and you''ll summon a vengeful spirit that bears a ghostly resemblance to County Supe Butch Lindley.
To put these and other GPU myths to rest, the Weekly goes deep undercover and shines the light of truth on the Top 10 General Plan myths.
No. 10: The General Plan is a ''no growth'' blueprint.
Not true. In 20 years, according to the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments, an additional 23,471 people will live in Monterey County''s unincorporated areas. The county''s growth plan marks enough unincorporated land for future development to house roughly 67,000 additional people.
In addition, each city in the county has a growth plan, and all call for more housing that would be needed to accommodate even the highest population projections.
"We are way above even the most aggressive growth projections for Monterey County," says Annette Chaplin, principal analyst for the General Plan Update.
"The question in the plan was never about limiting growth," says Jim Colangelo, the chief assistant county administrative officer who is managing the process. "It''s about where can we accommodate growth and services."
In other words, how will the county come up with the infrastructure needs for all the land slated for development?
No. 9: Public input was not sought.
In reality, General Plan staffers hosted more than 250 public meeting throughout Monterey County over a three-year period. Most meetings were held at night to accommodate working stiffs. General Plan team members say they didn''t want meetings to turn into closed-door, "special-committee" meetings.
"What happens when you create a special committee, people are either paid to be there or they have money involved," Chapin says. "We wanted to be representative of the public at large so we avoided the whole advisory committee strategy. We tried to reflect the values we heard in the communities."
No. 8: The 1982 General Plan was simpler.
The new and improved GPU is much shorter and simpler. The ''82 plan and the supporting area plans and coastal plans stretch over more than 13 documents and 1,325 pages. The new draft consolidates these documents into one, and it''s about 500 pages long.
"It has far fewer pages, far fewer policies and all aspects of it are integrated," Chaplin says. "What we tried to do with this plan was let people know the rules clearly to reduce confusion and let people know where growth is and is not allowed."
No. 7: We cannot deny property owners the right to do whatever they want to do with their land.
Actually we can--if we don''t scare easily and can run fast.
"One of the myths is that this plan takes away property rights," Colangelo says. "It doesn''t. There is a limit on what a property owner has the right to do anyway. We''re not taking away any constitutional rights."
Says Chaplin: "The plan doesn''t change anything for people who want to build and remodel on existing lots of record."
The plan does, however, say property owners cannot subdivide their land until the regional infrastructure--i.e., roads, a water supply--is fixed. And this is Constitutional. "What we are saying is that you don''t have a right to subdivide your property," Colangelo says.
No. 6: The General Plan''s ban on new agricultural lots smaller than 40 acres will mean no one can build.
Nope. This one''s wrong for two reasons. First, the 40-acre minimum is not new, which means that this policy will have virtually no affect on the vast majority of land in the Salinas Valley. "Right now, our minimum in almost all of the Salinas Valley agricultural land is 40 acres," Chaplin says. Second, property owners can still build or remodel a home on any existing lot of record. (See previous myth). Many opponents of the of 40-acre minimum have ulterior motives. These property owners are not interested in farming or ranching. They want to grow houses on their ag land.
"What they really want to do is get their land zoned from ag to residential so they can subdivide," Chaplin says. "You already have that 40-acre minimum. The truth is they don''t like what they have."
No. 5: The GPU hurts business.
Wrong. The plan aims to help Monterey County''s two major industries, agriculture and hospitality. Colangelo says that the plan doesn''t impose any new restrictions on business. In fact, several policies will make things easier for local industry. The plan will reduce ag permitting requirements in many areas. It designates "wine corridors" to encourage viticulture and tourism. "The plan also goes out of its way to help truck routes and identify trucking needs," Chaplin says. "And the real benefit to agriculture and the hospitality industry will be affordable housing for workers."
"What this plan does is provide the opportunity for developers to come forward and do higher densities where affordable housing is part of the mix and that''s the best thing we can do for business," Colangelo says.
No. 4: If we want more affordable housing, we have to open up more land for development.
No. People want to live in Monterey County, and they are willing to pay exorbitant prices to buy a home here. Case in point: Seaside Highlands on Fort Ord, where lots of cheap land produced lots of expensive homes. (Currently, the lowest starting price is $527,990.)
We can''t build enough homes to satisfy the demand for housing, let alone drive home prices down, Chaplin says.
"In Monterey County, the whole supply-and-demand model is turned on its head," she says. "We''re unique because we have more people who want to live here than just our workforce."
While most cities and counties only house the people who work there, Monterey County houses retirees, vacation-home owners and students.
"When you have an unlimited land supply," she continues, "You''re creating false expectations." The county needs to do more than build homes, Chaplin explains. It needs to have the money to provide roads, public safety officers, a water supply, schools and libraries to people who live in these homes.
No. 3: Build higher densities and all of Monterey County will look like East Salinas.
"East Salinas was not planned for these densities," Colangelo says. "East Salinas is overcrowded. East Salinas is not dense by a housing standpoint, but from a population standpoint, it''s very dense."
For this reason, the plan promotes mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods with townhouses, apartments, shops, restaurants and offices. "If you plan for higher densities and you actually have housing to accommodate those densities, then you''ll get a much better quality of life," Colangelo says.
No. 2: Clustering prevents sprawl.
Farmers and ranchers initially pushed for "clustered subdivisions" in the plan because they didn''t like the GPU''s ban on new ag lots smaller than 40 acres. This idea of clustering would allow up to three homes tightly grouped on rural land in exchange for an agreement to preserve the remainder of the land for permanent ag conservation or open space. Although clustering may make sprawl less damaging, clustering does take more ag land out of production--for residential developments, for roads, for necessary buffer zones to separate houses and fields and the like.
"Look at historical development patters," Chaplin says. "When you jump all around it leads to loss of ag land. If we start transferring out of agriculture and into residential we''re not preserving agriculture."
"The intermix of housing and ag land is the biggest threat to farming," says Colangelo. "Agriculture is industry without walls, and nowhere in any planning class would you hear ''let''s put residential right next to industry.''"
Yes, country living sounds nice, until the sounds of tractors at 4am replace alarm clocks, and the coat of dust becomes a permanent fixture on the former city-dwellers'' Beamers. Then they start having meetings to shut the farmers down.
And the No. 1 GPU Myth is:The "refinement committee" will reach consensus on anything related to the 20-year growth plan.
Chaplin and Colangelo are kind. They give the new panel the benefit of the doubt. "I think we have to give them more time to do what they have to do," Colangelo says. "This is a big group and it''s going to be a hard one to get to work together. We''ll just have to wait and see what happens."