If at first you don’t succeed, try, get sued, lose and try a slightly different version of the same thing again?
When in 2004 developers first proposed to develop 281 lots on 81 acres as the Rancho Cañada Village subdivision, the outcry was immediate and loud. Among the concerns raised on the project’s draft environmental impact report released in 2008: traffic, water, community health, flooding, more traffic and oh, there’s still not enough water.
Between the release of that draft EIR and 2015, not much happened. A new development team comprising Alan Williams and Clint Eastwood came in and presented a different version of the project, this one with only 130 lots. At the time, Williams said the reduced footprint should address the problems of the original proposal, the traffic and water and community health.
And maybe it would have, and maybe (or maybe I’m dreaming here) it would have been acceptable, save for one thing: while the original proposal included 50-percent affordable housing, the new and smaller proposal reduced the affordable component much further, to 25 duplexes throughout the development.
In December 2016, after a lot of back and forth on those affordable units, the project finally went to the County Board of Supervisors – to the final meeting of then-lame ducks Dave Potter, now mayor of Carmel, and Fernando Armenta – and the board voted 4-0 to approve the project with the reduction in affordable units, from 50 percent to 20 percent. And less than a month later, in January 2017, the nonprofit Carmel Valley Association sued, alleging the project violated zoning and planning laws and didn’t comply with the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA.
The CVA won that round. In 2018, Monterey County Superior Court Judge Lydia Villarreal ruled the county had to set aside its certification of the project’s EIR, finding it failed to provide an adequate project description and that part of the analysis didn’t satisfy CEQA. Meanwhile, the court found that the county abused its discretion when it failed to amend its inclusionary housing ordinance, making it inconsistent with the county’s own requirement that 25 percent of new units be affordable.
It’s 2020, and the Rancho Cañada Village project is back with a new draft EIR and a comment period through Aug. 11. This time, once again, there’s 20-percent inclusionary housing. The nonprofit Landwatch submitted a letter asking the county to hold the developers to a promise made in 2004 that, in exchange for an amendment to the county’s general plan, they would provide 50-percent affordable housing.
There’s been no affordable housing in 25 years.
If 50 percent isn’t realistic, shouldn’t 25 percent be? There’s been no affordable housing built in the valley in 25 years.
Not everyone agrees, of course, that Carmel Valley needs any more housing at all. One letter to the county during this latest comment period on the new draft EIR reads: “Carmel Valley does not need more housing. The valley road is already overused and dangerous and we don’t have the water to support more homes. This is (a) semi-rural environment and should be preserved as such.” Another states, “I can’t believe they would want to put in more housing, we are already paying an astronomical amount for water due to shortages.” Another letter questions the vanishing affordable housing requirement from 2004.
Pris Walton, board president of the Carmel Valley Association, says that from the CVA’s perspective, residents realize (or should) that some development is still allowed under the county’s cap. But she says developers should “have to do the right thing” and provide affordable housing for people who work in the valley and want to live closer to where they work.
“We know that under the cap we will have to take some development,” Walton says. “But we don’t need more houses that are second homes and get rented out as short-term vacation rentals and the increased traffic and everything else, if they don’t give us what we need, which is affordable housing.
“We have to really start trying to locate people near where they work,” she adds. “It’s going to be almost impossible for even a moderate-income person to afford it here.”