Locals say produce king's newly hatched development plans will ruin their small-town feel.
Thursday, May 29, 2003
Photo by Randy Tunnell: Gary Tanimura says his family did not give up housing development rights when it built its lettuce fridge in Spreckles.
The battle between the townspeople of Spreckels and the Tanimura family over a disputed subdivision on the tiny town''s western edge continues. At question are 73 legal lots of record where produce king Gary Tanimura says homes should be built.
An old 1907 map shows that the lots exist. However, a letter dated Sept. 16, 1992, from former County Supervisor Tom Perkins to Spreckels resident Jack Abeloe, says the Tanimura family traded away the development rights to the disputed lots in 1986 for the right to develop T&A''s lettuce-cooling facility on the east side of town.
At that time, Spreckels residents said they did not want to see 73 new homes built on the edge of the town. The county agreed with the residents and did not allow the housing development.
Last year, Gary Tanimura told Coast Weekly that new concerns about development were unwarranted. "I don''t plan to build," he said in June. "I just want to retain my property rights."
Now Tanimura says he is ready to break ground soon.
"During the General Plan Update process, my 73 lots were political hot potatoes," Tanimura says. So when it became clear the Board of Supervisors wasn''t going to allow Tanimura''s request to rezone his farmland to allow houses, he decided to apply for a grading permit under the old General Plan, using the old 1907 map.
"The only way to have my lots recognized was to start the building process," he says. "Plus, there''s a big housing shortage in the county. We employ about 3,000 people here at Tanimura & Antle, and people that work for the company would love to have housing here."
When asked about the pricing of the yet-to-be built Spreckels homes, Armanasco''s Jessica Spitz said: "I believe they will be market-rate homes; [I''m] not sure what the current average is these days."
In early May, the Tanimura family asked Monterey County planners to approve a grading permit needed to build roads--the first step in building the 73 homes. The Tanimuras also hired a building company, Mills Construction, Salinas architect Tom Carleton, and Armanasco Public Relations.
And once again, several Spreckels community members say they''ll fight back. They recently hired a Santa Cruz-based land-use attorney to fight the building process.
Spreckels townspeople point to a recent California Supreme Court decision, Gardner v. Sonoma County, in which the court ruled local jurisdictions don''t have to recognize "paper" subdivisions based on "antiquated maps." And many residents say the Tanimura family lied to the community, saying "I don''t plan to build," while secretly applying for the necessary permit to move ground.
"The town''s assumption is that the landowners don''t want to communicate with us," says Spreckels resident Elizabeth Panetta. "So we''ve hired an attorney to address the questionable legal opinions of the landowners, and to address decisions that are being made under the radar by the county."
The fight between community members and the Tanimura family began almost 20 years ago, when the Tanimura family asked Monterey County Supervisors for permission to build a lettuce cooler and 73 homes on the town''s western edge.
The Supes okayed the cooling plant but rejected the houses.
During last year''s General Plan Update process, the Tanimura family again asked County Supervisors to change the property''s land-use designation from agricultural to residential. Once again, public outrage ensued.
Some 143 households--almost 80 percent of Spreckels--signed a petition expressing their "strong desire to maintain the existing borders," and told County Supes that converting farmland to homes would kill the town''s bucolic charm.
Spreckels is a tiny town of around 185 bungalows in the middle of some of the best ag land in the world. Opponents point out that 73 additional homes would grow the small community by almost 40 percent.
Ultimately, the Board of Supervisors denied Tanimura''s request. Earlier this spring, however, the subdivision rumors returned.
"The first thing people saw happening was soil sampling and surveyors," says Spreckels resident Sandy Ferguson. "Then I saw someone taking a picture of my house. I said, ''Are you an appraiser?'' He said, ''No, I''m an architect.''"
Ferguson says Gary Tanimura didn''t return her phone calls.
"They''ve told us year after year that they don''t want to build but their actions say otherwise," she says. "We would like more than anything for them to be honest with the community. Their history makes it hard for anyone in this town to believe them."
Tanimura says his family has been open and honest with the Spreckels community.
"We met with the town last year," he says, "and we told them we were seeking to have those 73 lots recognized at that time."
He says the 1907 map remains legitimate.
Tanimura also says the supervisors'' past decision denying the 73 houses did not take away future development rights.
"That''s kind of an urban legend here," he says. "You can look up any files in the county. There''s nothing about trading away the development right on those lots."
Ferguson says she tried to find tape recordings or copies of the minutes from the 1986 Board of Supervisors meeting during which the elected officials rejected Tanimura''s request. Ferguson says county planners told her no such documentation exists.
Planning Director Scott Hennessy says he''s not familiar with the supervisors'' 1986 decision.
"The county is considering these legal lots of record," he says, adding that planners have not yet decided whether or not the grading permit sought by the Tanimura family will be subject to a full environmental review. "From the applicant''s perspective, these are existing lots of record," Hennessy says. "All they need is a grading permit to put in the infrastructure to develop. The applicant contends that this 1908 subdivision was approved by the Board of Supervisors so no additional approval is required."
Meanwhile, Spreckels residents say they will continue to fight for their hometown''s quaint charm.
"Nearly 20 years ago, people in this community fought for what they thought was the best thing for this town but somehow it never got documented," Ferguson says. "So here we are, year after year, still fighting."
Jonathan Wittwer, the attorney hired by some Spreckels residents, points to a provision in Monterey County code set up to determine whether land parcels are legal lots. "Any interested party may make an application for a parcel legality status determination," he says, "and that includes third parties--such as the residents of Spreckels."
He says he will recommend the community pursue this process.