SEX and the COUNTY: Third Try’s the Charm
The General Plan roadshow is on again, and the same characters are saying the same things.
Thursday, March 18, 2004
For some Monterey County residents, quality of life means the waves crashing along the Big Sur coastline, or the green, rolling Gabilan mountains. For others, it means fields of lettuce or rows of grapevines. And for still others, it’s rows and rows of…sprawling, pink stucco mini-mansions.
For this girl reporter, quality of life means a weekend spent in bed with Mr. Big, a bottle of White Star and a few boxes of Vietnamese take-out. Sadly, no one considered this kind of quality-of-life issue at the county Planning Commission meeting on Friday, March 11.
In this girl reporter’s ideal world, no one is out of bed at 9am, let alone sitting in a lumpy chair in the County Courthouse listening to dozens of residents complain about how the General Plan Update, the 20-year growth plan for the county, will quash their quality of life.
Wanna-be developers say the latest draft of the county’s General Plan Update—GPU 3—is too strict. Environmentalists say it has no teeth.
In this, the second of four hearings on GPU 3, the Planning Commission is set to examine “quality of life” issues related to the plan. This is a rather hazy theme in the four-inch-thick document. In GPU 3, “quality of life” includes the following areas:
• Coastal and inland area section policies;
• Community Area urban design concepts;
• Infrastructure concurrency with development;
• Environmental and scenic resource protection;
• Recreational trails.
This latter item—recreation trails—makes South County landowners hot and bothered, because they see it as a sneaky way to turn perfectly good private property into useless parks. And so it has been eliminated from GPU 3. But the girl reporter is sure that it will be a major point of contention at this hearing. Environmental groups want the trails back in the plan, and property-rights activists still believe that the county’s going to try to sneak the trails back into the plan.
It is a warm, sunny day in March, and she should be hiking said trails. Or sitting on a beach, drinking fruity cocktails with umbrellas in them—or at least shopping in Oldtown, only a few blocks over from where the girl reporter sits in misery.
Although it is an early morning, she had planned ahead and wore her walking shoes: black peep-toe pumps with a sensible two-inch heel. This means she is not feeling as tall as she would like to. But it is a sacrifice she is willing to make in the name of retail therapy.
Suddenly Nancy Isaacson’s voice snaps the girl reporter back to reality. Actually, it’s Isaacson’s jeweled flower brooch that she notices first. It’s black and glittery, and very fabulous, pinned onto Isaacson’s white blazer.
“Trails are back in the plan—back in full force,” Isaacson cries.
Isaacson, a thin brunette with red lips and wavy hair, is at the Planning Commission hearing today representing the Salinas Valley Water Coalition and the Independent Growers Association, two groups that have asked the County Supervisors to ditch GPU 3 and allow the plan to be rewritten by a so-called “broad-based citizens’ committee.”
The idea sounds a lot like the so-called “refinement committee,” a group of 29 representatives—including Realtors, developers, environmentalists, union reps, ranchers and others—appointed by the Supes last summer to reach “consensus” on the General Plan—or at least recommend policy changes that all sides could live with.
They couldn’t, and didn’t, and last September, the refinement committee officially disbanded. Still, a handful of mostly paid consultants and attorneys continue to meet and call themselves the refinement committee. At these meetings, pro-development land use attorney Brian Finnegan sits at the head of the table.
“The refinement group, which I am a part of, will be submitting something,” Isaacson tells the commissioners.
After Isaacson steps down from the podium, Lynn Burgess, a GPU senior administrative analyst—who looks surprisingly fresh faced considering what, and whom, she’s had to deal with these past four years—interjects.
The Supervisors had directed the General Plan Update team to remove all trails in the Salinas Valley. “We have done that,” she says.
Adds Associate Planner Sarah Hardgrave (who would be played by Sarah Michelle Gellar in GPU 3: The Movie), “Policy C-9.3 says the county should prepare a trails plan. But there are no specified or proposed trails in the General Plan Update.”
Hardgrave’s right. But that’s still not a good enough answer for some.
“Last week I told you the plan as presented has systematic problems,” says Brian Finnegan, looking very lawyerly in his round wire-rimmed glasses and suit. “[Trails] have been reinserted in the plan.
“It’s a quantum expansion of the county’s commitment of acquisition of private property,” he continues, citing 81 policies that do this. “I urge you to consider the refinement group’s recommendations.”
Suddenly that mantra, $4 million and four years later, starts ringing in the girl reporter’s ears. Maybe it’s just the caffeine wearing off. Regardless, the sudden and unsettling realization hits her: By the time this plan is finished, she’ll need a facelift. LandWatch’s Gary Patton, in a sharp black suit, snaps her back to the topic: quality of life.
“We believe the 12 objectives adopted at the start of this process was a very hopeful way to achieve that [quality of life] for Monterey County,” Patton booms stridently, referring to the so-called “12 Guiding Objectives” that prioritized things like creating affordable housing for people who live and work here, protecting Monterey County’s natural resources, preserving agriculture and improving water and air quality.
“We don’t think this current draft quite reaches the target,” Patton says. “It approves three times as much land for development as is needed according to local projections.” That doesn’t mean, as far as Patton is concerned, more housing for locals: “The people who have the money will out-bid our local people and take it away from them.”
Soon afterward, the Sierra Club’s Gillian Taylor echoes Patton’s concerns about the document being a big-growth plan.
“The environment and public services and costs are directly related to growth,” she warns, looking very eco-chic in a lime boat-neck top and heather trousers. “If we throw open the door to everyone who wants to come in, we’re going to make those needs greater. This new, sprawling growth would overburden the infrastructure. What we’re doing now is opening up land willy nilly for development.”
The girl reporter’s mind begins to wander—the commission’s lunch break is fast approaching. Hullaballoo’s martinis are calling. And so is that cute spring get-up hanging in the window of This Or Die.
Then her eyes fall upon Chris Bunn, Jr., the scion of a Salinas-area farming family that wants to rezone 875 acres of farmland off River Road for as many as 375 houses.
Bunn’s wearing his unassuming farm-boy best—weathered jeans and a forest green V-neck sweater—and as always, he carries his Dell laptop with him. Right now he’s sitting in line, waiting to speak, furiously typing away. Hmm, she wonders, is he taking notes? Or checking out Tom Ford’s final Gucci collection online? She can only hope it’s the latter.
When it’s Bunn’s turn to speak, he rails against land conservation groups, with their “touchy-feely slogans,” which, he says, are buying up too much private property in Monterey County.
“Encouraging land conservation is kind of like telling penguins to stockpile snow,” he says. “We don’t need to conserve land anymore.
“In effect, land conservation is a form of economic dictatorship, imposed on the urban poor.”
When Bunn’s three minutes at the mic are up, Commissioner Sharon Parsons, wearing a stylish silver bob and a deep purple sweater, asks Bunn, a vociferous property rights proponent, a question: “Would you curtail the right of an individual to sell his land to whomever he wants?”
He answers: “No.”
Finally it’s noon. There are no more speakers sitting in the pews.
The girl reporter’s editor doesn’t expect her to be back in the office today. She warned him she would likely be stuck in the General Plan hearing until late in the evening. She’s free.
There are facials to be had at Aquablue day spa, cocktails to be drunk and shoes to be bought. Yes, now the girl reporter can go out and experience Monterey County’s real quality of life.