Supes Subvert Referendum
Voters reject Measure C; supervisors allow development anyway.
Thursday, November 10, 2005
Voters overwhelmingly rejected the huge Rancho San Juan development on Nov. 8. But their vote may not mean anything.
Less than 24 hours earlier, Monterey County Supervisors voted 4-1 to approve Butterfly Village, a 671-acre golf and residential development, and one piece of the Rancho San Juan plan.
Supervisor Dave Potter cast the lone no vote. Supervisor Lou Calcagno voted to approve Butterfly Village. He had voted no on the larger project.
Potter said he did not want to undermine the Measure C referendum.
“I think the public should have the opportunity to vote up or down on the originally-approved project,” he said.
On the following day, the public did reject Measure C, which would have amended the General Plan to allow the 2,581-acre development, which was approved by county supervisors last December. Early returns showed 75 percent of voters rejected the measure.
Yet no one was surprised by the supervisors’ approval the day before.
“The board is trying to outmaneuver the public,” says LandWatch’s Chris Fitz, “basically thumbing their nose at the public.”
Late last year, after county planning commissioners unanimously gave the development a thumbs down, the public watched as its elected officials disappeared into closed-door meetings with project planners and ultimately approved Rancho San Juan by a 3-2 vote. Potter and Calcagno cast the dissenting votes.
The board’s majority used the threat of litigation from Butterfly Village developer Moe Nobari as its reason for approving the project. As soon as the supes approved Rancho San Juan, Nobari dropped his pending lawsuit.
The County was then hit with five other lawsuits, including one from the city of Salinas and another from the state Department of Transportation, challenging the just-approved project’s environmental report.
RSJ’s opponents followed this with a referendum and collected some 16,000 signatures asking the supervisors to repeal their approval.
The supes refused, and in March decided to allow county voters to have the final say on Rancho San Juan.
But in May, two months later, supervisors voted to move forward with a study of a scaled-back development at Rancho San Juan—which opponents see as an effort to build the development one piece at a time.
“They’re trying to undermine the validity of the referendum,” said Julie Engell, who chairs the RSJ Opposition Coalition, following that decision.
At the Nov. 7 meeting, Salinas city officials criticized the County for rushing through the approval process.
“The referendum and the timing of the decision today raises some issues and certainly raises some concern,” said Salinas City Attorney Vanessa Vallarta.
Clem Shute, an attorney hired by the County, told supervisors that the County would face a “very substantial lawsuit” if they did not approve Butterfly Village. The majority of the elected board followed Shute’s legal advice.
“It appears the County is concerned about lawsuits from developers, not lawsuits from the public or public agencies or the cities,” the Sierra Club’s Gillian Taylor told supervisors. “Why is that?”
<>Prior to the Butterfly Village vote, supervisors agreed to a possible two-year moratorium on development in the rest of the Rancho San Juan area. But critics, who argue that Butterfly Village is the first step in piecemeal development, called the moratorium a “smokescreen.” >