Numbers Game

Rancho Cañada Village does have supporters among neighbors, particularly those who experience flooding from the Carmel River. If built, the developer will incorporate flood control measures.

During a meeting on May 5, longtime Monterey County Planning Commissioner Martha Diehl recalled how, almost 15 years ago, she helped craft a plan to incorporate 50 percent affordable housing for 280 homes in the area that was once the Rancho Cañada Golf Course. Those units would house low-wage workers who are Carmel Valley’s backbone – the people who service shopping centers, care facilities, resorts and work in private homes. Many drive from far away since housing is too expensive. Diehl called the area the most usable area in the entire valley for affordable housing.

Since then, with a 2010 general plan amendment, legal challenges and negotiations between opposing interests, the development proposal by Rancho Cañada Venture, LLC now is 145 units, with 20 percent designated as affordable. It would mean 28 units designated for low-income, very low-income or workforce housing. The project also includes 12 townhomes and 93 single-family homes, all market rate. The area is zoned for up to 50-percent affordable units although, according to county planning staff, a recent decision by the state is for now precluding the county from enforcing higher percentages until it makes changes to housing policy documents next year.

As he heads to the Planning Commission on June 9, developer Alan Williams is advocating for 20 percent affordable units, contending that’s as high as he can go to make the project financially viable; he says he’s looking at a 6-percent return after over 16 years working on the project. “Normally you’d be looking at 8 to 15 percent when investing this kind of money,” Williams says. “I would’ve been better off leaving my money in a money market.”

He set aside five acres out of a total of 77 to build apartments and plans to have employers invest in them to rent out to employees and other workers, like teachers and healthcare workers.

Williams took his proposal to the county despite the fact that at the time he was awaiting a decision on his appeal of a 2017 lawsuit by the Carmel Valley Association. CVA won the first round in Monterey County Superior Court in 2018, blocking approval for 130 units at 20-percent. A Sixth District Appellate Court judge struck down that ruling on May 19. That means Williams could build the 130 units but he told commissioners he was excited for the new plan that came about in part thanks to ongoing negotiations with CVA.

But CVA President Pris Walton said on May 5 the group still opposes the project, calling the environmental impact report flawed. The CVA board contends 20 percent affordable housing is not enough.

Diehl and other commissioners weren’t ready to make a decision that day. “This is a really interesting example of a project that appears to be seriously improving over time,” Diehl said. She warned that “20 percent of nothing is nothing,” and although she would have liked to see more affordable units she called it a “darn good offer.”

The commission is set to vote on the project June 9 and will make a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors to either approve or deny it.

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