Del Rey Oaks City Council found itself caught between a state deadline and the threat of a lawsuit when it considered adopting a revised housing plan on Dec. 17, its first one since 1992.
The council voted 4-1 to adopt the plan allowing the city to meet a Dec 31 deadline by the Department of Housing and Community Development. The vote triggered a lawsuit brought by LandWatch Monterey County, which filed against Del Rey Oaks in Monterey County Superior Court the same day.
LandWatch is asking a judge to overturn the council’s vote on the revised housing plan, and an accompanying negative declaration with findings that there would be no significant adverse impacts to the environment. LandWatch believes there will be significant impacts and faults the city for not completing an environmental impact report.
One of the major problems LandWatch cites is a lack of water on former Fort Ord property which the city hopes to develop in the future, according to court documents. Two parcels, identified as sites 1 and 1A, are located over the Salinas Valley Groundwater Basin, considered overdrafted and already experiencing seawater intrusion.
Del Rey Oaks has no claim to pumping water on the Fort Ord land because the right to pump is, the lawsuit states, “paper water,” which is temporary and conditional that the pumping not aggravate seawater intrusion. Since LandWatch contends pumping would cause more intrusion, it wants the city to not include housing on those parcels.
LandWatch argues the city should rezone other parcels within Del Rey Oaks to include more housing options. An earlier version of the city’s housing plan contends it can’t add additional housing on those parcels due to the current cease-and-desist order on pumping Carmel River water. LandWatch counters in the suit that there is an adequate water supply on those parcels because the California Public Utilities Commission authorized California American Water's proposal for a desalination plant.
(Not mentioned in the lawsuit is a decision by Monterey County Superior Court Judge Lydia Villarreal on Nov. 19 to freeze construction of the desalination plant until after the California Coastal Commission votes in March on the project’s beachfront wells in Marina.)
At the meeting on Dec. 17, City Manager Dino Pick argued that in the future there may be other alternatives to providing water on the Fort Ord parcels that don’t include pumping groundwater. The lawsuit rejects that argument, stating that the city must identify a current supply of water.
It also disputes the city’s contention that the parcels are under the jurisdiction of the Marina Coast Water District, arguing that the MCWD’s 1998 agreement to provide water to the land is tied to the Fort Ord Reuse Authority, which is sunsetting on June 30, 2020. No FORA, no more agreement, LandWatch contends.
LandWatch also took exception to Pick’s reasoning to the council that the housing plan was a high-level policy document and did not commit the city to any specific future zoning or projects. The organization insists that under state law, if the city designates the Fort Ord land for affordable housing, that housing will eventually be able to secure permits without further environmental review.
Other alleged problems cited by the lawsuit include that Del Rey Oaks failed to periodically update its housing plan; did not maintain an adequate inventory of residentially zoned sites as required by the state’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation for affordable housing; and did not include a state-mandated program to rezone sites for residential use.
The lawsuit seeks a temporary injunction preventing the city from taking any further actions based on its housing plan as well as any court-related costs and attorney's fees.
A case management conference for the lawsuit is scheduled for 9am, May 5, at the Monterey courthouse.