County Supervisor Lou Calcagno had to reschedule this interview because the cows got out. In 16 years as a county supervisor and 18 years as a county planning commissioner before that, he’s continued to manage his Moss Landing dairy, feeding his cattle every morning. But he did reschedule (and track down his livestock), and spoke to the Weekly from Moon Glow Dairy, named for the moonrise views over Elkhorn Slough, visible from Calcagno’s living room. He was born in this farmhouse and now, at 78, is preparing to retire from a long career in politics.
“That’s not where I want to spend the last years of my life, sitting up there at the podium,” he says. “No doubt I’ll have a vacuum in my life, but I’ve still got plenty to do: a wife to take care of, a ranch to take care of, commercial property to take care of. I’m not going to be bored.”
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Weekly: After four terms, your career comes to an end Jan. 13 when your successor John Phillips is sworn in. How are you feeling about retirement?
Calcagno: I planned I wouldn’t go beyond this term. I was holding on because I wasn’t going to allow [Ed] Mitchell to be supervisor; I had to wait to get a candidate, and that was very difficult. We had quite a few top-notch individuals who decided for different reasons they didn’t want to run.
How do you feel about the condition you’re leaving Monterey County in?
From a financial standpoint, the county’s in excellent shape. The board has done a good job managing the budget.
As far as the development, there have been some well-planned projects, and some that haven’t been all that great. When I came aboard in the early ’80s as a planning commissioner, I could see what had happened in San Jose. We don’t want to become a San Jose or an L.A.
I was on the board of the California Cooperative Creamery then, and the board members from Marin and Sonoma had created a land trust. A lot of ranches up there wanted to stay in farming, but were getting pushed by development. The land trust gave them the opportunity to sell the development rights, and allow their family to continue generation after generation.
When I saw how that works, I said, that’s what we’ve got to do down in Monterey County. [I co-founded the Ag Land Trust] with Ed DeMars and Marc Del Piero. Right now in the Salinas Valley, there’s somewhere between 16,000 and 18,000 acres with permanent easements that the Ag Land Trust holds.
The last project I approved was Ferrini Ranch [on Dec. 16]. The feeling there was I negotiated the best possible deal. The public on the Highway 68 corridor is still going to have a beautiful view. I can drive by there and have a clear conscience.
Is there anything you look at and don’t have a clear conscience about?
Hidden Hills on the 68 corridor. We approved [the houses] to be screened, earth tones, no red roofs. If the sun’s shining, they stand out real bad. Every time I go by there, I tell my wife, “That wasn’t supposed to be.” That’s one I give myself hell for.
There are others. We approved the houses at Mission Fields at the mouth of the Carmel River. Those houses should’ve never been built there.
What’s the most controversial policy you worked on in your career?
The rooster ordinance [which passed 3-2 Dec. 16].
Do you think the desalination plant will ever get built?
It will, because it will become a necessity. However, I would’ve felt better if we were looking at another dam on the upper Carmel River. That would’ve been the cheapest and the best.
A lot of finger pointing has happened in the desal project, and a lot of it at you. How do you respond ?
It was a project that had all the momentum to be successful. I’ve got to be cautious how I say this: I think about it all the time. I think greed played a part and probably was the thing that killed it.
You mean by former Monterey County Water Resources Agency board member Steve Collins?
I think it’s more than Steve Collins.