The Outlaws (and the Lone Green Ranger)
Over the past six months or so, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors has (mostly) ignored state and federal law to allow some mighty big developments.
Thursday, July 29, 2004
Big Ag’s New Friend
District 1 Supervisor | Fernando Armenta
In 1980, Fernando Armenta was a United Farm Workers union organizer, volunteering at car washes to raise money to elect East Salinas Latinos to the Alisal School Board.
Now he wines and dines with the Monterey County’s elite, jets to Washington and Los Angeles to attend national conferences, raises more than $110,000 to run (unopposed) for re-election, and rents spacious, spendy office digs at the historic Grain Towner building in Salinas.
(Supervisors Lou Calcagno, Butch Lindley and Dave Potter’s offices are rent-free, located in County buildings, and Supervisor Edith Johnsen pays $13 a month at Fort Ord. Armenta, on the other hand, pays $1,580.88 per month to rent a suite at the chic building on W. Market Street.)
Armenta’s come a long way.
The Salinas City Councilmember turned County Supervisor remains true to his union and social service roots. If the UFW opposes a project, he’s a sure “no” vote on the Board. He’s also a staunch supporter of Natividad Medical Center, the County-operated hospital.
But he’s not the same Supe, originally elected in March 2000, who, at that time, told the Weekly: “There’s a price tag on my head from big growers in the Valley.”
These days, big growers give Armenta big money. So do their development-minded friends.
At a fundraiser in October 2003, Armenta raised more than $10,000, according to campaign disclosure statements. His war chest included checks from lettuce kings Tanimura & Antle, Mann Packing Co.’s Don Nucci, North County builder Don Chapin, PR guru David Armanasco, Lombardo & Gilles law firm, Monterey Plaza Hotel and Granite Construction.
He took heat for the large contributions, but Armenta insists money doesn’t buy any favors.
“When people say I’ve sold out, that I render my decisions more favorably for agriculture, tourism and development, I proved them wrong,” he says. “I wanted a full environmental impact report for D’Arrigo and also Gallo.”
In these cases, he’s right.
“These guys, who put money into my war chest, I don’t answer to them. Do they lobby me a fair amount? Yeah.”
He’s right about that, too.
According to Armenta’s calendar, from the first of the year through early July, he met with land-use attorney Tony Lombardo more times than he did with any other single individual.
In the first few weeks of May, leading up to three of the five Supervisors’ votes to kill the General Plan Update process, Armenta also met with several developers’ attorneys, who have continually asked the Board to stop the process (and have repeatedly told the Supes they will sue if the board doesn’t adopt a pro-growth General Plan).
On May 5, Armenta met with Lombardo & Gilles attorney Aaron Johnson. The next day he met with Lombardo. On May 10, he met with attorneys John Bridges, Christine Gianascol Kemp, and Brian Finegan. Early on the morning of May 25, Armenta met with Scheid Vineyards VP Kurt Gollnick, also a vocal opponent of the GPU. (Gollnick, and all of the aforementioned names, sat on the Refinement Group, and have drafted their own development-friendly version of the General Plan Update.)
“Some people utilize lobbying more than others,” Armenta says.
Around noon on May 25, the Board of Supervisors recessed for lunch and attended a Grower Shipper Association meeting-slash-luncheon at Clint Eastwood’s Tehama Golf Club. A few hours later, back in session at the county court house, Armenta made a motion to “stop the current work” on the General Plan.
The board voted 3-2 to kill it.
District 2 Supervisor | Lou Calcagno
Lou Calcagno’s roots run deep in Monterey County. So do his connections.
Calcagno’s a dairyman and local historian who was born on the banks of the Elkhorn Slough, and who can, on a drive in his pickup from Moss Landing to King City, tell you which family owns every farm or ranch in-between.
He also knows where all the bodies are buried.
Calcagno uses his toe-in-the-dirt, aw-shucks, farmer charm to his advantage. He begins his sentences with “Surely,” and he mispronounces fancy words like infrastructure (he says “interstructure”) and fiscal (“physical”). Some might not recognize Calcagno for the skilled politician he is.
When he ran for his second term in 2002, he told the Weekly, “I don’t have no hobbies. I don’t like to go play golf. I just like to look at the Elkhorn Slough, I like to look at beautiful farm fields, and I want them to stay that way.”
Calcagno knows who put him in office—a North County contingency of conservation-minded residents and Elkhorn Slough neighbors, plus a coalition of big growers and shippers. He looks out for his people, and his door is always open to them.
But sometimes the environmentalists’ wishes don’t mix well with those of the ag reps, who want to build a facility on their land or even grow houses instead of lettuce.
“I have personal contact with a lot of people,” he says. “I consider them my friends. I don’t like to hurt my friends. The trouble with being in politics, there’s only one side a winner when the gavel comes down.”
Insiders believe Calcagno’s got his fingers in every deal that goes down. They tell of private meetings with County staff, other supervisors and applicants, and his appointment calendar seems to corroborate.
According to his calendar, Calcagno meets with land-use attorney Tony Lombardo more than any of the other Supervisors. (Lombardo spends more time lobbying the Supes than any other individual in the County; PR maven David Armanasco comes a close second.)
Calcagno met with Lombardo about two dozen times in the first six months of the year. The meetings regularly occur at Lombardo’s law office in Salinas. (The other elected officials make Lombardo come to them.)
Calcagno’s calendar also shows that, unlike any of the other Supervisors, Calcagno regularly meets with developers who are planning projects outside of District 2—from Carmel Valley to Pebble Beach to the Toro Foothills. Some call it meddling, but Calcagno calls it his “open door policy.”
“The policy is whoever calls, and wants an appointment, we meet. The other reason is, being a Planning Commissioner for 18 years, people know me.”
(Unlike some other Supervisors, Calcagno also meets on occasion with LandWatch’s Gary Patton, and Elkhorn Slough activist Mari Kloeppel, as well as former Planning Commissioners Carolyn Anderson and Marit Evans.)
After meeting with a project applicant and his developer, according to Calcagno’s calendar, it’s not unusual for the Supervisor to hold a meeting with one or two of the other Supes—often Lindley.
According to Calcagno’s schedule, at 3:30pm on Feb. 11, his planning commissioners met “in back room” with an applicant identified as “D’Arrigo.” A week later, at its regular meeting, the Planning Commission approved the D’Arrigo Bros.’ proposal to build a huge processing plant.
Like some of his fellow supervisors, from January on, Calcagno met with land-use attorneys and developers eager to scrap the General Plan Update. He got busier in May, taking more meetings with John Bridges, Christine Gianascol Kemp and other developers’ lawyers.
But when it came time to vote on moving ahead with GPU3 in May, Calcagno was one of two “yes” votes. He says he was genuinely shocked when three other supervisors voted to kill the plan.
“I really thought it would come together,” he says. “I’ve always felt that with politics, you were more of a facilitator; it’s your duty to bring people together.
“With the General Plan, it really made me feel bad. I have friends on both sides, I understand their concerns and their issues. If I could only bring them together. And I couldn’t do it.”
The Straight Shooter
District 3: | Butch Lindley
Whether or not one agrees with this Supervisors’ politics, it’s impossible not to like the guy.
A partner in Lockwood Vineyards and J&L farms, Lindley has a preference for unpretentious plaid shirts and boots. He’s not one to deliver sermons at Supervisors’ meetings, but he’s got a sharp wit, and an easy sense of humor.
Sometimes, however, he looks miserable sitting at the Supes’ bench for hours on end.
“I find it to be interesting, but obviously a little frustrating,” he says of his job. “Coming from a private sector, where we try to make decisions and get things done on a fairly rapid basis, it’s difficult to see change here. I’m not saying it’s bad, it’s just a fact.
“Even something most everyone agrees needs to be done or fixed seems to take an awful lot of time and taxpayers’ money.”
Lindley’s a development-friendly vote on the Board, who has supported all of the major proposals this year. He’s never questioned why a planned development didn’t require a full environmental impact review, and when a last-minute e-mail from the US Fish and Wildlife Service convinced the Board to postpone its decision on the Gallo expansion, he lashed out. “I say to hell with Fish and Game,” he told his fellow Supes.
“Those agencies need to be part of the deal, don’t come in at the last possible moment,” he says, looking back on the Gallo vote. “[They] don’t seem to be agencies that want to talk to me. Maybe they don’t think it’s a worthwhile effort.”
Indeed, while Lindley does have a fair mix of development proponents and opponents on his calendar, there aren’t any meetings with Fish and Game biologists.
He also appears to meet with South County constituents about specific development proposals—like the Spreckels lots, or the Granite rock quarry—more than with anti-GPU consultants. But maybe that’s because they already know how Lindley feels about 40-acre minimums, strictly defined future growth areas, and the like.
So will he run for re-election in 2006?
“I don’t know,” he says. “I’m certainly counting the days I have left—899 after today.”
It’s a tough time to be a County Supe, he says, pointing to the budget woes, Natividad Medical Center and the near-strike earlier in the year.
“But even within these difficult times, we’ve done some good. We’ve made progress.
“I’m hoping that the General Plan process will go forward. Obviously, I didn’t like the other proposed draft. I didn’t think that was good for any area of the county, to be honest about it. I think we now have it in the hands of Planning and County Counsel—where it belongs. “
Lindley’s vote to stop moving forward with GPU didn’t surprise anyone. Prior to his election in 2002, he told the Weekly that the plan needed significant changes: “Many of the people in South Monterey County feel that they’ve lost some of their rights already, to federal and state mandates and laws and regulations. They see this as a continuation of that process.”
He never changed his tune.
“My mantra has been, ‘how can you have the same rules in Pebble Beach and Parkfield?’ They are not only 150 miles apart physically, but philosophically. There’s no golf courses in Parkfield. And there’s not too many cowboys in Pebble Beach.
“From Salinas south, we’ve seen a rather significant increase in the population. That will continue for some period of time. There’s a demand for homes. I’m certainly not in favor of covering up farmland any more than necessary, but I’m not going to say we cannot build on agricultural land, because most of the land around the cities is agricultural land. And there’s an attitude, certainly not by all, but a number of people on the Peninsula: We’ve got ours and we don’t want anyone else to mess with us.”
The Invisible Woman
District 4 | Edith Johnsen
Edith Johnsen announced last year that she wouldn’t run for re-election. While she still goes through the motions at the Supervisors’ meetings, some folks feel she has all but checked out from public life.
It does appear to be true. Her calendar looks bare compared to those of her fellow Supes. It looks like she isn’t doing much at all.
But we wouldn’t know for sure. We would have liked to ask Johnsen. But she won’t return calls from the Weekly.
Tracking down her calendar wasn’t easy. I left messages for the Supervisor every day for a week. She didn’t call back. I found out from another Supervisor’s aide that Johnsen’s calendar would be available for me to pick up two weeks later.
While all of the other Supervisors’ schedules detail site visits, meetings with constituents and land-use attorneys, and time slotted to return phone calls, Johnsen’s primarily lists agency meetings—city council meetings, Board of Supervisors meetings, FORA, TAMC and LAFCO meetings and the like.
Cute little computer icons represent each governing body. LAFCO meetings include an image of a bored-looking businessman with a five o’clock shadow and a pencil tucked behind his ear. TAMC’s got a red car. First Five Monterey County features three people in suits sitting behind a table, and the Monterey Regional Waste Management District’s got something that looks like people protesting and waving things in the air.
Her schedule contains a bit of work in May, when she met with Mark Blum, a Rancho San Juan attorney, on the third, Ventana Vineyards’ LuAnn Meador—a Refinement Group member—on the sixth, and attorney John Bridges, also a Refinement Group member, on May 10. Later that afternoon she also met with Nick Lombardo about affordable housing in Carmel.
Soon afterward, on May 18, Johnsen all but killed the General Plan Update with her motion to “stop the process.” Last year, she was one of only two votes to move forward with the process—she voted against forming the so-called Refinement Committee. Conventional wisdom asks who got to her.
Three days later, on May 21, Johnson met with attorney Christine Gianascol Kemp, a Refinement Group member who’s no fan of the General Plan.
Then, on May 25, the Supes axed the plan. Armenta made a motion to “stop the current work,” and turn it over to County Counsel and the Planning Department. The whole time, Johnsen was nodding, and then she seconded Armenta’s motion.
There’s at least one person she did not meet with in May—Elkhorn Slough activist Mari Kloeppel, who, at the May 25 meeting told the Supes: “The public process is a farce. I would bet the minds are pretty much made up.”
A month later, Kloeppel referred to that meeting as “the day I shamed Edith into looking us in the eye.”
Kloeppel says she tried to meet with Johnsen before the General Plan decision.
“I had heard things were going south,” she says. Kloeppel says she asked to schedule an appointment with the Supervisor. Johnsen’s aide asked what Kloeppel wanted to meet with Johnsen about.
“I said, ’the General Plan, and the upcoming hearing. I’d like to meet with her.‘ I never received a call back. The hearing came and went.”
I’d like to know how Johnsen decides who to meet with—developers’ attorneys who want to quash the Plan and replace it with their own pro-growth document versus Moss Landing environmentally-minded residents. But Johnsen won’t call me back.
The Green Ranger
District 5: | Dave Potter
In a county where cowboy justice is law, Dave Potter just may be the lone white hat. He’s often the only voice supporting strong land-use planning, state and county codes, and the public process.
“Potter likes participation,” says one meeting regular. “He likes the back-and-forth.”
His calendar reflects this, too. He meets less with attorneys and more with project applicants—and project opponents—than the other Supervisors do.
“I’m more suspicious if you come with your attorney,” he says. “You get better access into my office if you come in as an individual.”
Early on a June morning, Potter is sitting at his Monterey County Courthouse office talking about recent decisions by the Board.
I ask him to name a large development project denied by the board in the past eight or nine months.
“How about the last eight or nine years?” he jokes.
Potter voted “no” on the Gallo expansion, saying that he believed a complete Environmental Impact Report should be conducted. “That’s a lot of dirt they’re talking about moving,” he says.
Ditto the D’Arrigo Bros. vegetable cooler and Don Chapin’s Cathrein Estates Subdivision. He also argued that Spreckels residents should have the right to weigh in on the 73 lots that T&A want to build on.
“I would rather approve a project after we have a policy decision rather than approve a project to prejudice a future policy decision,” he says.
“I would be shocked if, let’s say, Mondavi comes forward, and they didn’t stick up their hands and say, ‘Hey, me, too! You let Gallo go. Why don’t we get to go, too?’
“And with D’Arrigo, is a series of smaller facilities better, or is a larger, consolidated facility better? We never had that discussion. We allow a single facility to set a precedent for other facilities. I don’t know if the Board doesn’t understand this process, or just doesn’t want to engage in it. I think relationships, and personal connections come into play prior to the engagement of the general public.
“Blood runs deep in this county. There are relationships that are decades old.”
Maybe it’s because Potter’s somewhat of an outsider, originally from Hingham, Mass., who stumbled on Carmel when his car ran out of gas in 1970, and wasn’t born and raised in Monterey County. But whatever the reason, Potter’s got a notion that all applicants who want Board approval should play by the same rules, whether it’s the world’s largest winery or a family that wants to build a second home.
“There’s a process that everyone goes through, no matter how important you are,” he says. “For example, the CHOMP wing. They had to go through the permitting process and they’re curing cancer.
“We’ve all got to play by the same rules, whether you’re an ag project, or whether you’re low-income housing.
“You can’t say the economic benefits of this project are so good that it doesn’t warrant a full review. It’s up to the Board of Supervisors to listen to the public. Economic considerations are not supposed to be part of the consideration.”
Environmental attorney Michael Stamp sees a land rush beginning.
“We’re running out of water, our infrastructure is lacking. There are a lot of reasons why, if you were a smart developer, you’d be moving ahead now.”
Potter sees this too.
“There’s so much money to be made and so much money to be spent,” he says.
Potter points to the General Plan process.
“It was a five-year insult,” he says. “You ask for public input, you take public testimony in a variety of different theaters from grange halls to the Planning Commission, and then you decided, ‘we didn’t get what we wanted so we’re going to stall some more.’”
Perhaps this is why, in May, when developers’ attorneys bent on spiking the General Plan began lobbying the other four Supervisors with almost daily meetings, they steered clear of Potter.
Potter’s the only Supervisor who didn’t meet with Brian Finegan, or Christine Gianascol Kemp, or Jeff Bridges, or Jay Brown, or any other members with the Refinement Committee about the General Plan during the month of May.
Says one County staffer, “They know they can’t sway