Good Reads 07.23.20

Before voters defeated Measure G, which would have incorporated Carmel Valley as a city, there was a bitter, litigious battle leading up to it.

This is excerpted from a piece that was originally published on Sept. 24, 2009.

THIS GREEN GLORY OF CYPRESS AND CHAPARRAL, where hawks soar overhead and mountain lions run from ridgetop to river, is ground zero in the battle for the town of Carmel Valley.

Here, on 81 acres between Carmel Middle School and the Carmel River, developers want to build Rancho Cañada Village, around 280 new houses and condo units, parks and open space.

“If we succeed, the Town Council will get the final say on this subdivision,” says Glenn Robinson, who opposes the Rancho Cañada Village. “It is becoming the cornerstone issue of this election. A no vote on Measure G is a yes vote on the Rancho Cañada subdivision.”

Robinson has helped spearhead an incorporation effort for Carmel Valley for nearly a decade. Now that residents will finally get to vote on Measure G on the November ballot, Robinson’s running for a seat on the Town Council. (If the majority of voters say yes to incorporation, they’ll also elect a five-member body to govern the new town, which would open for business next July.)

He and other prominent incorporation supporters, including former county supervisor Karin Strasser Kauffman, and current left-of-center Supervisors Dave Potter and Jane Parker, see the battle as a fight over larger issues that have dominated debates in Carmel Valley, and the county, for the last 20 years. There’s a strong drive to develop, on one side, with big-moneyed builders and powerful land-use attorneys who pad the campaign war chests – and have the ears – of the Monterey County Board of Supervisors. The other side, Carmel Valley’s well-heeled environmental community, adept at stalling projects they don’t like with lawsuits, hopes Carmel Valley can serve as a model for “smart growth” that incorporates development when needed (and when there’s sufficient water and roadways), but also draws a firm line in the sand – or the sage brush – against unchecked commercialism.

It’s a debate that’s being played out against an unusual economic backdrop, given the recession of 2008. Despite years of fiscal studies – all of which paint a rosy financial picture for the new town of Carmel Valley, including a robust cash reserve of almost $6 million over the first few years – it’s surprising to some that incorporation, with its potential costs hotly contested, is even on the ballot at all.

“I’m a businessman,” says Carmel Development Co.’s Alan Williams who, along with Clint Eastwood, makes up the Rancho Cañada Village development team. “The numbers, to me, just don’t add up.”

But for others, the time for a public vote is long overdue and the fiscal concerns overplayed. “It’s a very conservative budget, and still runs a surplus, even during down economies like we’re in,” asserts Larry Bacon, a professional investment adviser, Republican and candidate for the Town Council.

On Nov. 3, the 7,700 eligible voters of the proposed Carmel Valley township will decide for themselves.

CARMEL VALLEY IS A UNIQUELY CURIOUS PLACE, where bobcats coexist with BMWs. It’s part tree-dotted hills inhabited by horses, goats and golden eagles, and part suburbia, where only the affluent can afford to call a ranch house home. It’s a place that appeals to day visitors seeking the sun, and celebrities seeking the splendor. (Bob Dylan lived here with Joan Baez; Earth, Wind & Fire used to host famous parties at their mansion getaway; media mogul Rupert Murdoch owns a massive ranch.)

There’s only one main route in and out: Carmel Valley Road, which runs from Highway 1 and the bustling shopping centers at the mouth of the valley, east past golf courses, world-class resorts, rolling pastures and parks, and after about 12 miles reaches the Carmel Valley Village, a tiny hub where tasting rooms, galleries and restaurants share the road with the town park, the lumber yard, grocery store and cowboy bar. There’s a country feel throughout, and most Carmel Valley residents don’t mind that there’s no more dumping of old trucks in the riverbed (an attempt to shore it up and prevent flooding) prevent flooding) – but they also don’t want to see the community lose its bucolic, rural-village charm.

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