Rancho This, Rancho That
Two big development hearings; two more threatened lawsuits.
Thursday, December 9, 2004
Whoever invented the three-martini lunch must have been a regular at County Supes meetings. If not for the martinis, she would have gone mad.
It’s another Tuesday morning at the County Courthouse. She recalls that some big development project (or two) called Rancho Something Something tops the agenda. Yes. Two Ranchos are in fact slated for discussion: Rancho San Carlos and Rancho San Juan.
One’s a sprawling, luxury home community and golf course in Carmel Valley that was billed as a green development and now is accused of killing endangered fish. The other’s a sprawling, luxury home community and golf course planned between Salinas and Prunedale that’s selling itself as a New Urbanist mecca of affordable homes and good-paying jobs. And with the help of Vincent Guarino’s expert PR skills, the idea is in fact selling.
First on the Dec. 7 agenda is Rancho San Carlos. The Board will hear an appeal by Brian Finegan, attorney for the Rancho San Carlos Partnership (RSC). He wants the Supes to approve the final 29 lots in the 354-home subdivision, and he says RSC shouldn’t be required to complete a permit process, required by various wildlife agencies.
But federal agencies—including the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)—not to mention local environmentalists and fishermen—aren’t buying Finegan’s argument.
For years, locals have charged RSC with stealing water from Garzas Creek, a tributary to the Carmel River that runs through the 20,000-acre property, and an important habitat for steelhead.
In August, at a Planning Commission meeting, a NMFS spokesman testified that RSC’s water use is killing endangered steelhead. Should the commission approve the final lots, the feds warned, both the County and Rancho San Carlos could be liable under the Endangered Species Act, which defines the killing of endangered species as an illegal “take.” The Planning Commission told Rancho to get a “take permit.” Today, Rancho’s back—still fighting that ruling.
“Pumping at the Ranch has not affected the streams,” Finegan insists, looking wise and lawyerly in huge frames and a black, pinstripe suit.
Fisheries attorney Amanda Wheeland says he’s wrong. She’s also wearing a black pinstripe suit and rectangular maroon frames—wise, lawyerly and chic.
She says hydrologic reports show Rancho San Carlos is draining the creek. And if the County approves the development without a take permit, and without requiring Rancho to complete a Habitat Conservation Plan, then “our agency has not only the authority, but the responsibility to uphold the Endangered Species Act,” she says. That could mean another lawsuit.
The Supes continue this hearing to 10am, Jan. 25.
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Talk of lawsuits continues about two hours later, as the Supes move on to the second in a series of public hearings on Rancho San Juan. It’s the largest development proposal ever in County history, and late last week, the Planning Commission gave it a unanimous “no” vote, advising the County Supervisors to turn down the 4,000-home plan and its first phase, the 1,077-home Butterfly Village golf-and-residential subdivision.
Rancho San Juan was first designated in the early ‘80s, and in 1999, Butterfly Village developer Moe Nobari filed a lawsuit to force the county to process a development plan. This time around, should the Supes deny his project, Nobari says he’ll sue. He could seek as much as $100 million in lost revenue for 14 years of delays. So it’s widely assumed that the Supes will approve the development. County Chief Administrative Officer Sally Reed further reinforces this idea today, by telling the Supervisors and the public, “We cannot afford to pay for the past 14 years.”
“The price tag of ‘just say no’ is very, very high,” Reed says.
The girl reporter thinks back to the days, when the only people who liked Rancho San Juan were the developers, developers’ attorneys, and developers’ consultants. Until they brought Guarino on board, that is. And then, he “briefed” East Salinas residents, hospitality industry types, union members, agriculture workers and even a high school class about the project.
Yes, he’s good. Several speakers read prepared speeches. They all cite the same housing numbers, swear willingness to sit in traffic if it means the ability to buy a home, and keep saying that “it’s time to face our own fears of change.” Huh? A cynic would think they had memorized a script.
Melanie Miller, wearing a black, stretchy skirt with white stripes, black sling backs, a blue Michael Stars tee under a denim jacket and a knit scarf, says “so many good things” will result from the development of Rancho San Juan. She’s young and pretty with two-toned hair. But as far as the girl reporter can tell, the only good thing coming out of these newly popular hearings is the style.
Now, about those three martinis…
The Rancho San Juan public hearing will continue at 8:30am on Tuesday, Dec. 14.