Supes to Nuts
Monterey County supervisorial candidates share plans to pacify land-use tensions and tackle a sluggish economy.
Thursday, May 8, 2008
“There’s not enough water in Monterey County. Housing prices are too high, and subdivisions and strip malls threaten to gobble up farms and open space like stampeding elephants.” Sound familiar? The Weekly wrote that in 2002 about the upcoming supervisorial election, adding that the new Board of Supervisors “will be responsible for shaping the next 20 years by interpreting and implementing the county’s new General Plan.”
We all know the history; the supes spiked the draft general plan, and now, six years later, we’re still waiting (its final language is slated for review in August).
Two years later, in 2004, the Weekly wrote, “The issues in Monterey County have been the same for a decade. People who work and live here can’t afford to buy homes. Developers want to build homes amid the Salinas Valley’s fertile farmland. Gang violence in Salinas continues to rise; the sheriff’s department continues to ask for more money to help out. The county-funded hospital is on its way to a fiscal recovery, but access to community health care still remains out of reach for some vital workers. Water remains in short supply.”
These things didn’t change much in 2006, when the Weekly had this to say about the upcoming vote: “Sprawl is the defining issue of this election. On the other issues – transportation, Natividad Medical Center, public safety and fighting crime – the candidates are not far apart. Development pressure makes this a watershed election, and on this issue, the candidates are profoundly opposed.”
Now, it’s yet another year and another election, and the same issues still face Monterey County.
Voters will elect three supervisors on June 3. District 1 Supervisor Fernando Armenta, who represents most of Salinas, is running unopposed. In District 5, Don Ask, a retired Carmel postmaster, is challenging popular incumbent Dave Potter, who has represented the coastal district since December 1997. The most contentious race is for the District 4 seat, representing Del Rey Oaks, Marina, Sand City, Seaside and southwest Salinas. It pits Supervisor Ila Mettee-McCutchon against Jane Parker, associate director of ACTION Council of Monterey County, who narrowly lost the seat in 2004 to now-deceased supervisor Jerry Smith. Near the end of February, instead of waiting for the June election, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed then-Marina Mayor Mettee-McCutchon to the board. The District 4 seat had been vacant since November, when Smith died following a long battle with cancer.
Mettee-McCutchon and Parker both are tough, hardworking leaders. Mettee-McCutchon is a former psychologist and Army colonel who commanded the largest intelligence battalion in the Army. She served on the Marina City Council for nearly a decade before the governor appointed her to the Board of Supervisors.
“I have spent most of my adult life in public service,” she says.
Parker’s current work at the ACTION Council, a nonprofit organization created to address the reduction in government funding for health and human services, centers on projects like the Children’s Mobile Dental Center, which provides care to poor kids in rural areas of the county, and Girls Inc., intended to develop leadership skills in girls. Previously, she owned a healthy-meal preparation delivery service and worked as vice president of development for Planned Parenthood Mar Monte.
“If I look back on all my work,” Parker says, “it really demonstrates a commitment to making early, relatively low-cost investment in individuals and families so that they can be successful, and also to prevent harder-to-solve, more-expensive-to-solve situations down the road.”
Although they are running for a non-partisan seat, it’s a partisan race, with Red and Blue voters – and their pocketbooks – supporting the candidate whose party affiliation matches their own. Parker’s a liberal Democrat, and Mettee-McCutchon’s a staunch Republican. One political insider says “Jane’s far to the left, but Ila’s even further to the right.”
Mettee-McCutchon has accepted hefty campaign checks from the Board of Realtors Polical Action Committee and the Monterey County Business PAC, which includes vintners and hospitality industry insiders – the same groups that pumped lots of money into the June ’07 No on Measure A campaign, and supported the agro-growth General Plan Update 4 (see chart, pg. 26). Parker’s biggest contribution comes from Howard Classen, a former Natividad Medical Center CEO. She’s also collected a lot of smaller monetary donations from environmentalists and local Democratic leaders, who supported the slow-growth Measure A.
Mettee-McCutchon has won endorsements from local GOP elected and state Republican officials, including state Sens. Jeff Denham and Abel Maldonado, organizations including the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the county Association of Realtors, Farm Bureau, Hospitality Association and Deputy Sheriff’s Association. Parker’s got the progressives: U.S. Rep. Sam Farr, Assemblyman John Laird, California Nurses Association, Monterey Bay Central Labor Council, Sierra Club and local elected Democrats.
Parker’s opponents say narrowly losing the seat to Smith four years ago isn’t a good enough reason for her to feel entitled to the seat now; Mettee-McCutchon’s the one with the “proven leadership” from her six years as Marina mayor. Mettee-McCutchon’s critics point to her legacy of highly visible-from-Highway 1-big-box-stores on Marina’s 12th Street, and worry she’ll try to gut compromise land-use policies in GPU5.
And, as in previous elections, land-use policy is the reason to tune in to the District 4 race. During the past year, such decisions generally have been split, 2-2, with Supervisors Lou Calcagno and Dave Potter voting for farmland protection, open-space protection, and development in existing urban areas with water, roads and infrastructure to support new building. Supervisors Simón Salinas and Fernando Armenta have been friendlier to developers.
It’s widely assumed that Parker would vote with Calcagno and Potter, and Mettee-McCutchon would side with Armenta and Salinas. In 2004, the last time the board was poised to approve a “compromise” general plan, supervisors caved in to pro-development interests, including realtors, the Farm Bureau and vintners and growers. They scrapped the land-use document and drafted a new growth-friendly one. Now, it’s rumored that the same interests and groups – many of them Mettee-McCutchon supporters and campaign donors – are looking to change GPU5. So the question looms: What will Mettee-McCutchon do in August, when the final general plan policy language comes before the board for approval? (Whoever is elected formally takes office in December).
When asked whether she will vote to approve GPU5, specifically with the “compromise policies” that prohibit the subdivision of agricultural land of statewide importance for other than agricultural purposes, restrict further subdivision in the non-coastal north county planning area and in the greater Rancho San Juan area (meaning Butterfly Village won’t be just the first phase of the larger Rancho San Juan project), Mettee-McCutchon says: “In general, I agree with [GPU5]. I have nothing in mind now that I would lead an effort to change.”
Parker calls GPU5 “a good compromise.
“The only thing I would hope would be addressed in the EIR is cultivation on steep slopes,” she adds. “In general, I support GPU5.”
Moving down the coast to District 5, the race between Supervisor Dave Potter and Don Ask can hardly be called a contest. Ask, a former postmaster, is a polite, thoughtful, retired gentleman. But his candidacy is a waste of money and time.
“I decided to get involved into politics after attending some [Monterey County Peninsula Water Management District] meetings, after I was put on notice that I might lose some of my property-owner rights, namely my right to drill a well.” Ask didn’t lose his well-drilling privileges. Nor did he run for a seat on the water board (one of the couple of dozen boards and commissions that Potter sits on, including the California Coastal Commission, the Natividad Medical Center board of trustees and the Local Agency Formation Commission).
“Property-owner rights on the Monterey Peninsula, in District 5 are not being looked out for,” Ask says. This seems to be the theme of his campaign.
The budget is a key reason to vote in the June election. Monterey County government expects to lose upwards of $25 million in state funding next fiscal year, and the governor’s proposed spending plan includes a 10 percent reduction in MediCal reimbursements, a primary source of revenue for Natividad. When the state loses money, it typically raids local governments’ funds, which means county supervisors are going to have to make tough decisions about how to balance Monterey County’s budget.
Ask says he’s read the executive summary. But that’s the limit of his knowledge about the county’s spending plan. Potter, on the other hand, is well versed in money talk.
“The entire budget for Monterey County is $982 million, $18 million short of a billion dollars,” Potter says. “The overwhelming majority of the expenditures are on the employee side, the cost of personnel. The area where the county gets hurt the most is in the area of sales tax and property tax. We only get about 15 cents to 18 cents on the dollar.”
He says he anticipates a “status-quo budget” this year. “The state is expected to hit us with at least $20 million [less than in previous years], but I suspect we can get through this year by leaving positions unfilled. Next year will be significantly worse.”
Potter has been through severe belt-tightening in previous years, and he says it’s taught him lessons. “Certain essential services you simply can’t cut to the bare bones. You can’t cut police and fire; you can’t cut public health, you cannot gut those services. Layoffs can happen. Last time we cut some basic programs and we also went ahead and did not fill positions that were unfilled. I am also a huge believer in a county reserve. When I got to the county level, there was about a $2.5 million reserve, which in the grand scheme of things is nothing. Now it’s about $45 million. Every year we have incrementally salted away more. You can’t do it on a one-time catch up.”
So maybe the next time the state runs out of money and looks to cities and counties to make up the difference, Monterey County’s coffers will be in stronger shape.