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.
These are the issues that dominated the last local election, and the one before it. But they''re still here, and for this year''s election there are a few added twists.
On March 5, two people will be elected to serve four-year terms on the Board of Supervisors. At least one of the two will be a newcomer to county government. Each will represent a new district, one in the north and one in the south, the result of last year''s contentious redistricting process.
Land-use problems--or challenges, as politicians like to call them--promise to plague the new supes. To make the task of negotiating them more interesting, this Board will be responsible for shaping the next 20 years by interpreting and implementing the county''s new General Plan--if, that is, the Plan actually exists by the time they take over.
The plan is slated for final approval in October, which would mean the current Board of Supes will be responsible for its approval. But several local leaders, including some planning commissioners, say that''s an overly ambitious timeline. If it''s stalled long enough, the new supervisors may be tasked with green-lighting the final plan.
At the same time, power in the county is going to shift. North County--the newly configured 2nd Supervisorial District, which ranges from the northern section of Salinas to Prunedale and Pajaro--will choose between current Supervisor Lou Calcagno, a Moss Landing dairy farmer, and Planning Commissioner Carol Lacy, a Prunedale community leader who owns a medical claims firm in Salinas.
South County voters--those living within the new District 3, which runs from southeast Salinas down the Salinas Valley to the San Luis Obispo County Line--will elect either Richard Ortiz, a three-term mayor of Soledad who''s cash-poor but backed by labor leaders and Latino elected officials, or Butch Lindley, a likable, conservative Salinas Valley farmer and vintner who''s raised more than $87,000 in campaign funds.
In January, the two new supes will join Supervisor Edith Johnsen, who''s never met a development proposal she didn''t like, Salinas'' Supervisor Fernando Armenta, who mostly represents the interests of his mostly Latino constituents, and Dave Potter, an environmentalist at heart who is also the Board''s swing vote on land-use issues.
New allegiances will be formed, and these five supes will determine what growth will look like, where and how it will occur and who will be able to afford to live here for 20 years to come.
The race for the North County seat continues to grab the most attention and intrigue. It has some elements of a nasty campaign: anonymous rumors labeling Calcagno a pro-development candidate in sheep''s clothing; rumors that Lacy''s candidacy sprang from an ongoing feud between Calcagno and outgoing Supervisor Judy Pennycook; and lots of powerful players filling the coffers of their candidates of choice.
The fighting is surprising, given the candidates themselves. Calcagno and Lacy were colleagues for many years on the planning commission, where they chalked up similar voting records. They''re both well-known and well-respected in North County. They both support the controversial Prunedale Bypass project and prioritize similar topics--such as finding a long-term solution to the water shortage, building more low-income housing and preserving ag land.
Both are bright and extremely well versed in tough land-use topics. Both agree that the county needs to house its residents. They say inclusionary housing isn''t working. They support concentrating new development around existing cities--so long as there are enough roads, water and open space to go around. Both say they want to preserve ag land.
The two differ only in style.
Talking politics for an hour on a recent Thursday morning, Calcagno comes across exactly like one would imagine a dairy farmer-turned-businessman-turned-politician would. He looks like he would feel more comfortable in jeans and a straw hat than the dark suit and red tie he''s wearing. He says he''s running for a second term because "it''s my county and I love it."
"I don''t have no hobbies, I don''t like to go play golf," he says. "I just like to look at the Elkhorn Slough, I like to look at beautiful farm fields, and I want them to stay that way."
Calcagno, 65, was born on the banks of the Elkhorn Slough, but he seems to speak with a slight New Jersey Italian accent. He looks like a balding, clean-shaven Santa who''s traded in his reindeer for 1,000 dairy cows. And he''s the closest thing to a political sophisticate this election''s got.
He started as a dairy farmer and quickly became active on the state and national milk advisory boards, eventually serving as the chairman of the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board in Washington, D.C. for four years under the Reagan Administration. He became active in local politics about 20 years ago, co-authoring the North Monterey County Local Coastal Plan. He was then appointed to the County Planning Commission by then-supervisor Marc Del Piero, and in ''92 was appointed to the state Coastal Commission. He was elected to the Board of Supervisors in 1998 to represent the massive District 3, which stretched from Pajaro to the San Luis Obispo County line.
Calcagno''s smart and charming, in a toe-in-the-dirt kind of way. He speaks frankly about his own land holdings and wealth, as well as the sizable checks he''s received from his supporters--North County environmentalists, South County growers, Latino elected officials and Peninsula businessmen and developers.
But he bristles when talk turns to two widely circulated anonymous letters alleging that Calcagno''s part of a pro-development political machine and that he stands to make money off a deal with Duke Energy.
"Did I have anything to do with the Elkhorn Slough and their negotiations? No, I wasn''t involved at all," he says. "Am I going to sell my property? No. So anybody making a big story that I''m going to make a big fat buck off of it is wrong. I''m there for the community. I''m not there to get rich."
Calcagno mentions his ties to both the agriculture industry and the environmental community--pointing to the consensus-building work he''s facilitated between the two--and gently boasts that he was the founding father of the Elkhorn Slough Foundation and the Monterey County Agricultural Lands Conservancy, which has protected more than 8,000 acres of prime ag land. He says his major accomplishments over the last three years on the Board were the initiation of a no-water-transfer ordinance and the creation of the largest road-repair project in the history of Monterey. The record shows that he also stopped illegal mining in Arroyo Seco and obtained funding to clean up a toxic waste site on Johnson Road in Las Lomas.
When it comes time to answer the "what-are-your-priorities-if-elected" question, he avoids what he says would be the obvious answer. "Most people will tell you water and infrastructure," he replies. "To me, it''s affordable, low-cost housing."
Calcagno puts a pro-business spin on the issue.
"To keep the county the way we want to see it--the beautiful green fields, the beautiful ocean, the beautiful viewshed we have--we need to keep two industries moving, we have to keep them healthy, and that''s our agriculture and our tourism," he says. "To keep those industries viable, and to keep them happy, we''ve going to have to house their labor force. If we can keep those two industries vital and healthy, the infrastructure problems and the water problems will be solved because we will have the revenues generated from healthy business."
To accomplish this goal--which has eluded local leaders for a decade--he suggests partnering with local industry to develop low-cost housing at Fort Ord. "Maybe a company block, similar to what Spreckles was when Spreckles first came into the community," he says. He believes a big local company--for instance, Pebble Beach Company or T&A Growers--could obtain federal funding to build a block of apartments and condos for its employees at East Garrison.
"The county''s matching share would be the property," he explains.
Calcagno''s hesitant to say how many homes should be built at East Garrison. But he points out that many local companies need to house their workers, and that firemen, police officers, health care works and teachers also need affordable homes.
"We should build the maximum number at Ford Ord that we can build," he says, "and if we can get more water, we should double that. If we can build 30,000, I''d be happy. But can we? I don''t know."
When it comes to discussing the issues surrounding the race, he admits his and Lacy''s agenda are similar.
"If you look at our record in the planning commission, you go back all the way to when she came aboard [eight years ago], you''re going to find that we voted almost identical," he says. "Up till about two months ago, there really was no difference. I don''t know what the difference became between now and then--I would say she was encouraged by a present supervisor."
Supervisor Judy Pennycook won''t say why she''s not supporting Calcagno. In fact, she won''t even say she''s not supporting him.
"I prefer to say I''m supporting one candidate more than the other," she says. Pennycook''s supporting Lacy.
"Carol was my mentor way back when," Pennycook says, sitting behind a wooden desk in her Salinas office. "I''ve always felt she was a tremendous leader for the North County area. She cares very deeply about the community and puts her passion into action." Pennycook continues, rattling off Lacy''s accomplish- ments like a shopping list: planning commissioner, Highway 101 Bypass Committee chair, Grand Juror, Salinas businesswoman, PTA president, Natividad Hospital Advisory Committee member.
"I''ve worked with both individuals, and in my experience, Carol is in the best position to defend and safeguard the unincorporated area."
Lacy, 58, sees a stark difference between her challenger and herself.
"I feel I represent the average man on the street from our community," says Lacy, who owns Drug Testing Unlimited in Salinas. "The person who doesn''t own a big-time business, who doesn''t have family money, who works for a living and struggles to pay the PG&E bill."
Lacy feels that county government has been unresponsive to some citizens, and she''s ready to shake things up. She gives failing grades to County Administrator Sally Reed and the county''s understaffed planning and building department. She''s not happy with how county government operates--she characterizes it as "backroom politics"--and doesn''t want to see special treatment given to big-bucks industries like agriculture.
She says there are two kinds of special interest groups receiving special treatment on behalf of the current board. One group is the farmers who want to convert their ag land to high-density condos and apartments, along with the developers who would do the building. The second group she identifies is vintners and wineries. She points to the county''s winery advisory committee, which is made up of county staff, supervisors Johnsen and Calcagno, and wine industry reps and vintners.
"This committee came up with three winery corridors [that have been incorporated into the draft General Plan], and none of that was ever part of any public discussion," she says.
"So when I say ''special interest,'' it''s not just special interest in terms of home-building. There are a lot of people out there who feel--for whatever reason--that wineries are getting special treatment."
Born in England, Lacy moved to the States in 1967 and became a U.S. citizen nine years later. In 1977, she was elected to the school board, a development that sparked her political career. She''s also served on the Monterey County Special Healthcare Authority and was a founding member of the Highway 101 Bypass Committee. In ''94, she was appointed to the County Planning Commission, and she''s served on the North County Water Advisory Board since ''99.
She knows water politics and can name the various hydro-geological regions quicker than most people can name their own in-laws. But while she''s quick to list the water shortage as North County''s gravest threat, she''s hesitant to stump for any particular solution.
"There''s people a whole bunch smarter than me who have been working on the problem for quite a while and haven''t really come up with a solution," she says. "There are a number of solutions that probably will probably have to be put in."
She lists importing water, or creating several detention ponds throughout North County and corralling water into the area''s underground supply, as possible options. She supports Measure N--which would make money available for a possible pipeline from the Central Valley (Calcagno supports that, too), but she''s yet to see a long-term plan she could buy into.
"There''s no fix in sight," she says.
Until North County''s water problem is fixed, along with its roads, traffic congestion and sewer system, she won''t support any future growth.
"''You don''t have any water; you can''t do any building. It''s as simple as that,''" she says, quoting Walter Wong, the outgoing county environmental health director.
"And yet," she says, "the General Plan has five areas designated for growth in all of Monterey County, and four of them are in District 2. Now how much sense does that make?"
While the North County race gets all the attention, the new South County supervisor looks to be the wild card on the board. The new 3rd District is one of two Latino-majority districts, and Latinos make up 54 percent of the district''s registered voters. Even so, Richard Ortiz, the Latino candidate, looks like a long shot.
Both Ortiz and his opponent, Butch Lindley, support streamlining the county''s permit process for wineries and say more wineries will be good for tourism and business in the Salinas Valley.
Those are the only things the two have in common.
It''s Ortiz''s third run for county supe--Calcagno defeated him by about 400 votes in 1998. Soledad serial mayor and city councilmember, the 57-year-old Ortiz entered the race with an impressive list of supporters, including the United Farmworkers Union, the mayors of Salinas and Greenfield, Supervisor Fernando Armenta and State Assemblyman Simon Salinas. But his bank account pales in comparison to Lindley''s.
Butch Lindley, on the other hand, has had little trouble raising more than $87,000 to finance his campaign--largely from vintners, growers and other agriculture interests.
Lindley, 57, a partner in Lockwood Vineyards and J&L farms, has never held a public office. But he''s confident that 32 years in farming, his business and tourism connections, and his strong ties to the Salinas Valley will give him an edge.
Ortiz has 20 years of Soledad public service under his belt buckle. During his tenure as mayor, the city has seen unprecedented growth and development--which worries some people. He''s a chief engineer at the Correctional Training Facility in Soledad, also known as the prison, and he is a retired volunteer firefighter, a former Soledad police reserve officer of the year, and a past member of the Soledad Hospital Care district board.
The son of migrant farm workers, he''s a lifelong resident of Monterey County. As a teen, Ortiz worked in the fields and held jobs driving tractors and loading boxcars at packing sheds.
Ortiz is a serious man who is as easy to read as a grammar school primer. He speaks softly and methodically, taking long pauses to carefully consider each question. He''s very familiar with concerns facing his community. Given his background, you might guess Ortiz'' top priorities would be affordable housing--particularly for the farmworker community--public safety and health services. You''d be 100 percent correct.
Affordable housing needs to be really affordable, "not just for the middle class," he says. "We need housing for the McDonald''s workers, the secretaries, the single mothers.
"We''re not doing enough for the people who work in the agriculture industry. We do a lot for the ag industry--the brokers, the farmers--we''re doing a lot for them to try to preserve that, but we''re not doing enough for the labor that''s involved in creating this large industry--the laborers in the fields."
Ortiz has also been loudly calling for a local medical clinic to serve South County residents. Currently, Soledad dialysis patients travel to either Salinas or King City for treatment.
"The new center will reduce some of the costs of transporting people all the way to Salinas, all the way to King City," he says, adding that as a volunteer ambulance driver, he''s witnessed patients'' suffering firsthand.
"This center will reduce the suffering that those poor people go through getting there and coming back," he says. "It''s really devastating."
Ortiz is less familiar with county-wide issues, however. His critics say he only knows Soledad, that he doesn''t know the Valley. They say his tunnel vision will hurt the county. Indeed, talking about the General Plan, Ortiz is vague. He says the future growth targeted for areas of Castroville, Boronda, and Pajaro will increase traffic congestion. He would like to see more growth in South County.
"I think growth should be spread out so everybody has an opportunity for growth," he says.
Butch Lindley also thinks the General Plan needs more work.
"I say that anything that''s 500 pages long with fairly small type and isn''t about a religion must have a flaw or two in it--and maybe if it''s about religion, too," Lindley says.
Lindley''s a hearty, affable conservative with a shock of white hair and a quick smile. He''s backed by Sheriff Gordon Sonné, County Superintendent Bill Barr and the mayors of Gonzales and King City.
Born in Arizona in 1944, Lindley moved to Salinas in 1970 after serving a year in Vietnam. He got his start in business in ''74 as a partner in J&L Farms, growing row crops and grape. At one time J&L farmed more than 8,000 acres throughout the state; today it''s a farm management company.
Lindley was part of a trio who developed the San Lucas Vineyard in 1980 and added the Lockwood Vineyard Winery in 1989. In ''94, he co-founded the retail outlet A Taste of Monterey.
"Part of my motivation for running for this position was to give something back to the community that''s been good to me," he says.
But he hadn''t planned on running until Calcagno threw his hat into the District 2 race.
Lindley says he''s been following the General Plan process closely--he''s the chairman of the Central Salinas Valley General Plan Update Committee. So when Calcagno announced he wouldn''t run in District 3, several farmers and growers approached Lindley and asked him to run.
"I hadn''t given it much thought, so I spent a couple weeks thinking about it, talking to other people whose opinions are valuable to me. I decided to give it a run."
If elected, he wants to continue to work on finding a solution to the Salinas Valley agriculture industry''s water woes and help provide affordable housing for farm workers. He also wants to expand the tourism industry and help lure wineries to the southern reaches of the county.
Lindley says he will support streamlining the approval process to develop new wineries.
"Eighty percent of the grapes we grow here in Monterey County leave the county as grapes," he says. "Processing facilities need to be encouraged. Wine making is a clean process, and if it''s done right, yes, I would look favorably on it."
On the issue of land-use, however, he holds to an ardently conservative line. He says he worries that the General Plan''s growth-triggers and limits on future development to existing communities are too strict, and that they sacrifice individual property rights to the new ideals of smart growth and walkable communities.
"Many of the people in South Monterey County feel that they''ve lost some of their rights already, to federal and state mandates and laws and regulations," he says. "They see this as a continuation of that process."
The General Plan Update Committee that Lindley chairs has asked to review the 270 zoning change requests which have lately become controversial. Lindley says he''s yet to see them, and says each should be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Of the five or six planned developments he''s heard about, "most are pretty small projects," he says.
Generally he seems inclined to support the zoning changes, which would mean a loss of more than 6,000 acres of prime ag land.
"In general I''m an advocate for people''s individual property rights--within reason," he says.
Regardless of who the voters elect, there will certainly be some interesting public hearings as the new Board is called upon to implement the new General Plan that in its current incarnation
Calcagno says the key will be bridge-building.
"You get to the point where you have to try and come to consensus and decide what you really can do for the community."