Playing the Green Card
District 5 Supervisor candidates fight for the environmentalist vote.
Thursday, February 12, 2004
Last month, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to allow E&J Gallo to more than double the size of its vineyard near Soledad. The world’s largest winemaker got a green light to plant an additional 380 acres of vines and to build a 350-acre-foot reservoir in an area that is part of a wildlife corridor, and also to cut down 321 oak trees—all without a full-scale environmental review.
This vote was part of what could become a pattern: open space becoming vineyards; other ag land becoming mini-mansions; all sailing through the county approval process without concern for water, steep hillsides, fertile soil, threatened species and the like.
Supervisor Dave Potter was one of the two who voted against the Gallo expansion project. In his usual style, he first cracked a joke about being one of the wine industry’s largest consumers. And then he voted no, saying that he believed a complete environmental impact report should be conducted.
It was a typical vote for Potter, who has represented District 5 for the past eight years and has consistently been a strong voice on the board for strict land-use planning.
Potter said no to a dam on the Carmel River in 1995. He said no to a hotel on the beach in Sand City five years later. He voted down a freeway through Hatton Canyon (it’s now a park, instead), and as an alternative to the massive project, Potter led the effort to ease congestion by building a climbing lane on Highway 1.
Potter has also consistently voted to preserve farmland in the Salinas Valley and open space along the coastline.
He voted against county water credit transfers, and he led the charge that now requires developers to prove that there is available water before they are allowed to develop. He formed the Carmel Valley Watershed Council.
Potter voted against the contentious September Ranch development—a proposal to build 119 homes in Carmel Valley that was passed over Potter’s objections, but later overturned by Superior Court Judge Richard Silver.
At the same time, Potter has focued on other issues. During his tenure, he put millions of dollars into improving Carmel Valley Road. He also pushed the Woodman project, a so-called New Urbanism development, in East Garrison on the former Fort Ord. He then brokered a peace between Monterey Peninsula College and Arts Habitat that will allow a mixed development of homes, artists’ studios, shops, cafes and commercial space at East Garrison.
Potter sits on the California Coastal Commission and the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District board of directors, and is no stranger to lobbying for money in Sacramento and Washington.
On March 2, Potter’s District 5 constituency will decide whether they want to let him keep all this stuff up.
This is a watershed election, because whomever voters chose will be responsible for making key environmental decisions about what Monterey County will look like for years to come.
It should be no surprise that all three candidates are running green. Potter’s running on his record and his experience representing this traditionally coastal district. Steve Collins, a Las Palmas-based ag consultant, CPA and college professor, also claims green credentials—despite the fact that he has raised a huge war chest from the agriculture and generally pro-development crowd.
The third candidate, Susan Goldbeck, an attorney and first-term Pacific Grove City Councilwoman, positions herself as the only real environmentalist in the crowd, and paints herself as the anti-big money candidate who will “keep our quality of life” and not “sacrifice it on the altar of special interests.”
District 5 is made up of Monterey, Carmel and Carmel Valley, Pacific Grove, Pebble Beach, Big Sur and the rest of the coast down to the San Luis Obispo county line. Now, as a result of the county’s redistricting process in 2001, it also includes the Highway 68 corridor and River Road area south of Salinas—a predominantly agriculture and ranchland area with little infrastructure and loads of water problems that, in recent years, has been the location of several contentious proposals to subdivide and build hundreds of houses.
Steve Collins comes from this new part of the district. Although he is backed by people who have been pushing for development there and throughout the Salinas Valley, Collins says he’s a bigger environmentalist than Potter.
“I would be a stronger environmental vote on the board than Dave,” he says. “I am probably the most environmental of the three candidates.”
However, Collins runs with a distinctly non-environmentalist crowd. He previously was a member of 21st Century Solutions, a group whose members urged the supervisors to toss the General Plan because they found it too restrictive. He continues to raise money—about $119,000 to date—from developers, Farm Bureau members, and vintners and produce growers, many of whom are affiliated with 21st Century Solutions.
His war chest includes two hefty checks in excess of $10,000 from Scheid Vineyards, and several other $1,000 donations from South County farmers and ranchers including Mike Antle, Hames Valley Vineyards, Sebastian Harvesting and Soledad Ranch.
“I’m not this big pro-growth zealot trying to turn this county into San Jose or Santa Clara,” Collins insists. “But growth in this county is going to happen. The question should be how and where it is sustainable.”
On specifics, he seems to take a pro-growth position. He says he supports a big desalination plant at Moss Landing to provide water for future growth for the entire region; environmentalists generally support a smaller desal plant in Sand City. Tellingly, Collins says he wouldn’t vote for a “blanket” ordinance limiting developments of lots smaller than 40 acres on ag land—such ordinances are the one sure way to keep the agriculture in ag land.
“There are a lot of property owners in the county who have no interest in subdividing but they want to build two or three homes for their family,” Collins says. “Under the current plan, that would not work.” He says he wants to see “a little common sense enter into the equation.”
Collins also insists that large donations to his campaign won’t sway his vote in favor of future development projects. “It’s an election about leadership, not an election about industry,” he says.
His backers agree.
“Steve is certainly part of agriculture and someone who has the support of the agriculture community,” says Salinas lettuce exec and philanthropist Basil Mills, who co-chairs Collins’ campaign. “I certainly don’t see that as a negative.”
Collins’ parents, Jim and Jan, served 23 years between the two of them on the Salinas City Council. But Collins—who is running on a platform of financial leadership and finding a sustainable water supply—is a newcomer to public office.
Unlike Potter and Goldbeck, he has no voting record to point to. He did chair both the county Water Resources Agency board and the Natividad Medical Center Action Committee, and when asked about his environmental leanings he touts water projects built—or approved—under his watch, including two to end seawater intrusion into North Monterey County and keep billions of gallons of treated sewage out of the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary, and the Salinas Valley Water Project that should be completed by the end of the year. He says his leadership on the water agency makes him the best candidate to help the Peninsula solve its water shortage.
However, Rita Dalessio, who chairs the Ventana Chapter of the Sierra Club, says Collins can’t be trusted. She says that’s why the Sierra Club has endorsed Potter. “He is the only strong environmental leader on the Board, and this is an important race. It’s a fast growing county. There are a lot of subdivisions being proposed. If Steve Collins wins, this county will look like San Jose.”
Susan Goldbeck says she’s a more ardent environmentalist than Potter and Collins put together.
“We cannot build over and pave over our future,” she says. “That means if we don’t have the water, if we don’t have the land, if we don’t have the environmental protection, we should not develop. Period.”
Goldbeck got her start in city politics in the mid-’90s, when she served for a few months on the Pacific Grove Planning Commission. She stepped down from the board to publish a newspaper, the Pacific Grove Beacon. Three years later, short of money to support the struggling paper, and wanting to re-enter the political arena, Goldbeck gave up publishing and challenged three-term mayor Sandy Koffman. She lost by 316 votes.
In 2002, she ran for a seat on the PG City Council, and was elected on a platform of reform, vowing to clean up city government, reduce the city’s payroll budget by 10 percent over five years, and fix the rotting sewer system.
Two years into her term, she’s running for county supervisor. Her list of supporters includes many members of the Peninsula’s progressive, slow-growth, greener-than-green club: David Dilworth, Ed and Mary Leeper, Daniel Davis and Molly Erickson, among others.
“Dave Potter is the most environmentally-sensitive vote on the Board, but it isn’t getting us anywhere,” says Janice O’Brien, a Pebble Beach resident and long-time environmental activist. “If we can get Jane Parker elected in the 4th District, and Susan in the 5th, maybe there’s a chance.”
O’Brien, like many of Goldbeck’s supporters, says she’s unhappy that Potter didn’t consistently vote with the former slow-growth majority on the water board.
“Susan is, first of all, highly intelligent. She is a person of her own convictions. I think she can work constructively and intelligently [with the other four board members]. This is my hope. It’s time to give somebody else a crack at it, to see if they can pull the board together.”
On paper and in person, Goldbeck sounds like an environmentalist’s dream candidate. She’s against the proposed Pebble Beach Company development in the Del Monte Forest that would involve cutting down more than 15,000 trees including 100 acres of old-growth Monterey Pines to build a new golf course, more than 100 hotel rooms, 33 houses, 60 apartment, 11 golf cottages and three parking lots. She’s an advocate for senior housing in Pacific Grove, and she favored Congressman Sam Farr’s plan to build 50 percent affordable work force housing at Fort Ord, although the Fort Ord Reuse Authority recently chopped that number down to 20 percent. She supports a small-scale desalination plant at Sand City to solve the Peninsula’s water woes as opposed to a huge one at Moss Landing.
Goldbeck, who is a public interest attorney, brought a successful lawsuit to end water profiteering in the city of Pacific Grove. And she recently waged an ultimately unsuccessful one-woman war against Pacific Grove City Hall to open up public employees’ pay records.
She’s unabashedly feisty, and leaves no doubt that she will fight to the bitter end for affordable housing and smart land-use planning. But can she build consensus among her fellow supes?
“Susan Goldbeck means well for the environment,” says the Sierra Club’s Dalessio. “But it would take all the environmentalists to vote for Dave to keep Steve Collins from winning. Dave has been able to bring people with him on some votes and I don’t know if Susan could.”
Goldbeck has earned a reputation for being an uncompromising lone voice on the PG Council, and some say she alienates her fellow councilmembers and city employees. She ran—and was elected—on a platform of change, and even Goldbeck herself admits her work as a councilmember isn’t complete.
“I was elected to a council where I’m the only one who is not part of this 6-1 slate. If I say the sky is blue, they all say the sky is black. It’s very difficult to stand alone for the public interest time and time again.”
All Together Now
The same people who support Goldbeck criticize Potter for his ability and willingness to compromise. He calls his style “casual consensus building.”
“I don’t wear my agenda on my sleeve and bang on the table,” he says. “I think I can convene a group of people who can put their attitudes in the drawer and work to develop a solution.”
Which may explain why, in this contentious race, Potter has not only won the endorsements of the local chapter of the Sierra Club and former Assemblyman Fred Keeley, but he’s also supported by the Hospitality Association, Monterey Mayor Dan Albert, and the county’s largest employees’ union, SEIU Local 817.
“Dave Potter has been very supportive of county workers, in a balanced way,” says John Vellardita, executive director of Local 817. “He hasn’t been a blind follower. He’s smart. The Peninsula is a unique and special place in the state of California. Its supervisor is entrusted by the community to protect it.”
Says the Hospitality Association’s Bob McKenzie: “We see him as a consensus builder and a guy who can sit down with the other supervisors or whomever he’s dealing with in an official capacity and work out as close to a win-win as possible.”
His opponents, naturally, disagree. And both say he’s not green enough.
“Mr. Potter has supported, in the past, the Pebble Beach lot plan that would require taking down 15,000 trees in the Del Monte Forest,” Goldbeck says. She also criticizes him for not vociferously supporting Farr’s 50-percent affordable housing at Fort Ord plan.
Collins criticizes Potter for failing to find a solution to the Peninsula’s water shortage during his tenure on the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District board—although, during Potter’s tenure, the board voted down a dam and approved a desalination plant.
Collins says once the Salinas Valley Water Project comes online, by the end of this year or early in ’05, “the Salinas Valley will have more water than it knows what to do with.” Collins suggests they’ll share with their Peninsula neighbors.
“When do farmers give up water?” Potter counters. “They give up blood easier.”
And Potter points out, Collins doesn’t live in the water district. He can’t sit on the board. “If we’re going to have a water project and it’s going to be a desal project, we need somebody who has been on the water board,” Potter says. “I’ve been on it seven years.”
Collins points to the battle to lead the Coastal Commission in 2002, that pitted then-Chairwoman Sara Wan, a preservationist, against then Vice Chairman Potter, who, according to some environmentalists had strong ties to developers. Potter said he was never swayed by builders who came before the commission, but withdrew from consideration before the final vote, saying the election had become too nasty and too personal. Collins disagrees.
“He didn’t become chair of the Coastal Commission because he’s ‘Mr. Developer,’” Collins says. But Collins can’t give specific examples of Potter’s pro-development votes.
“This feels like Jeff Davi all over again,” says Potter, referring to real estate scion Jeff Davi, who ran against Potter in ’96, was backed by pro-development interests and tried to position himself as the environmental candidate. Davi has since endorsed Collins in the District 5 race. “Who can get the greenest? I have approved projects and I have denied projects. I’d like to think there is such a thing as a good project out there. I don’t see any developers lined up on my side.
“The 21st Century Solutions group—wasn’t [Collins] a part of that group? It’s kind of like you’re at the crime scene and how you’re trying to get your fingerprints off. Some of his guys are very verklempt with the General Plan. I’m talking about responsible land-use planning rather than going project by project. If we hadn’t started that process [of updating the growth document], no one would be running against me.”
In voting against the Gallo winery expansion, Potter noted the amount of soil that would be moved to build the huge reservoir and commented that the project involved “more grading than we’ve seen in most subdivisions.”
When asked how they would have voted on the Gallo expansion, Potter’s two challengers’ answers varied.
Goldbeck said she would have absolutely wanted to see an EIR. “That’s a mighty big project. A lot of big trees are coming down. They’re building a large reservoir. It should have a full EIR.”
Collins seemed to dance around the question.
“Viscerally, I’m not that familiar with the Gallo decision,” he says. “I didn’t read the EIR.”
When reminded that there is no EIR—that is why Potter voted against the project—Collins pleads ignorance.
“Not being on the board, sometimes you’re at a bit of a disadvantage,” Collins replied. “Assuming that there were no environmental factors, and assuming that water was available, I would have voted yes.”