County Avoids Conflict
Stamp says planners rescheduled public hearing on CV Ranch to exclude him.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
County Supervisors will vote on a controversial Carmel Valley development proposal at a meeting on Dec. 19. The project’s attorneys from the Salinas law firm Lombardo & Gilles will be there. The attorney for the subdivision’s opponents, Michael Stamp, will not.
According to the County’s Web site, there is still no board meeting scheduled for Dec. 19. Officials confirm that the meeting will indeed take place.
The public hearing on a plan to subdivide 218 acres at Carmel Valley (CV) Ranch was originally set for Dec. 5, but prior to the meeting date, it was pulled from the agenda and postponed. Originally, the idea was to reschedule the public hearing in January, according to e-mails and voice messages between Stamp and county planners. But then, at the request of the developers, County officials OK’d the Dec. 19 date.
Stamp will be in court in the Bay Area that day—he says he agreed to that trial date after confirming several times with County officials that the CV Ranch public hearing would be slated for January. He says Senior Deputy County Counsel Efren Iglesia and Interim Planning Director Mike Novo knew he would be out of town that day, and assured him that the public hearing would not be scheduled for a day that Stamp was unavailable.
In a Dec. 5 letter to Iglesia, Stamp writes that Iglesia “explicitly” promised that he would not schedule the meeting when Stamp was gone. “He then told me it would have to be in January. I agreed. I notified my clients, and made plans accordingly.”
He says he had received an e-mail that day informing him that the Board had set the hearing for Dec. 19, and that this was “the date selected by the developer.”
“There was no mention” in the e-mail “that the County had advised the public that there was no hearing that date, and that I was available January 9, 16, 23, and 30 (and all of February and March for that matter), but not December 19.”
In the letter, Stamp writes that the scheduling decision will quash debate and exclude the public.
“The County is not providing due process, and is not in compliance with the intent and spirit of the court order,” he writes. “Setting a hearing for a date when you know that one party is unavailable…is a denial of due process and a deliberate attempt to use the administrative process to favor the developer in the pending litigation.”
“This is not a routine board hearing. It is a court-ordered hearing, and is properly considered part of the judicial process. The misrepresentations and favoritism exhibited by the County are serious matters.”
A Dec. 6 reply, signed by County Counsel Charles McKee and Senior Deputy County Counsel Efren Iglesia, says Stamp’s “allegations of misrepresentation and ‘favoritism’ are unfounded and are herein categorically denied.” And it says the Dec. 19 public hearing will continue as planned.
Iglesia says he didn’t realize that Stamp would be out of town on Dec. 19, and adds, “I have no control over the Board of Supervisors’ calendar.
“I was as surprised as Michael was when the Dec. 5 hearing was postponed. I didn’t have any input into the Dec. 19 date, other than a suggestion to Planning to work with both counsels in this case.”
“Lombardo requested Dec. 19 at the Dec. 5 hearing,” Iglesia says. “It’s unfortunate that it wasn’t scheduled in January, but I can also understand the thinking that the board had already scheduled a hearing on the 19th, along with a hearing on the General Plan.”
CV Ranch is a 144-suite luxury resort in the hills near Mid-Valley. The proposal that will be discussed at the Dec. 19 public hearing, which subdivides 218 acres to build 12 homes, has been in and out of court since 2004. Opponents say the CV Ranch does not have the water rights needed to build the homes. The public hearing is a result of the ongoing litigation.
The project is also tainted by the County’s “ghostwriting” scandal, in which a judge found that attorneys at Lombardo & Gilles had ghostwritten County documents pertaining to CV Ranch and other projects.
In 2005, Superior Court Judge Robert O’Farrell sent the development plan back to County Supervisors, ordering them to reconsider their approval. In his decision, O’Farrell determined that the Board of Supervisors had improperly signed off on the CV Ranch expansion without an Environmental Impact Report looking at water rights. The supes subsequently ordered an EIR.
In September 2006, county planners released a new study for the 12-home subdivision that didn’t mention the board-ordered EIR, and recommended a “mitigated negative declaration” rendering such a review unnecessary.
Stamp contends the County still needs to prepare an EIR on the project.
Stamp won’t be at the Dec. 19 meeting unless his trial is cancelled. But “somebody will be there,” he says, “making a presentation for our side,” and urging the Supervisors to demand an EIR.
“There’s really only one result the board can legally or logically take,” he says, “and that’s to order an EIR. Any other result would be pure politics. If it’s pure politics that carries the day, then we’re back in court.”