Sara Rubin loves long public meetings, red pens and reading (on newsprint). She has been editor of the Monterey County Weekly since 2016, and has been on staff since 2010.

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When the Monterey County Planning Commission meets at 9am tomorrow, May 5, they have a pretty wonky to-do list. The commissioner’s agenda is just one item long, and what they are technically scheduled to do is vote on whether or not to recommend that the Monterey County Board of Supervisors approve the proposed Rancho Cañada Village Project. 

That entails rendering an opinion on whether to certify a 779-page environmental impact report, which explores potential impacts to western pond turtle and burrowing owl habitat, as well as noise and greenhouse gas emissions (alternative 6B of the EIR is recommended); whether to amend the Carmel Valley Master Plan; issue use permits for development within the Carmel River floodplain, including the removal of up to 37 trees; and approve a combined development permit for the project, which could create 106 residential lots for 93 single-family residences, 12 townhomes, 28 units of affordable and moderate-income housing and 12 units of workforce housing. 

This is the nuts-and-bolts part of the process, as established by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and zoning requirements. But the bigger deliberations and debate that are likely to happen tomorrow have only so much to do with those technicalities, and a lot more to do with bigger policy questions: Where should we develop housing, and how much new development should be designated as affordable?

The proposed project is located on 77 acres of the former Rancho Cañada Golf Course, adjacent to Palo Corona Regional Park (which also claimed part of that former golf course). It’s been years in the making, and been through litigation—the Carmel Valley Association sued over the original 281-unit project on 81 acres, resulting in this downsized version

Part of the revised project came with a smaller footprint, fewer units and improved flood control measures. But it still clings to a certain ratio of affordable housing that remains controversial: Despite an affordability requirement of 50-percent affordable/workforce housing, the developer, Rancho Cañada Ventures, wants to provide just 20-percent affordable/workforce units, “due to the economics of the reduced density project,” according to a county staff report prepared by Associate Planner Mary Israel to the Planning Commission. Alan Williams, managing partner for the developer team, says it’s been a deliberative process meant to accommodate critics, and claims that it barely pencils out. 

He’s looking at a 6-percent return after more than 16 years. “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.” 

The affordable housing requirement will be a main topic of debate tomorrow. At least it’s already been reflected in letters sent to the Planning Commission weighing in. From LandWatch Monterey County: “Because of the dearth of affordable housing in Carmel Valley and the tremendous demand for housing that is affordable to hospitality and other workers, LandWatch supports requiring as much affordable housing in the Rancho Cañada Village Subdivision as possible. At a minimum the developer should provide 35 percent affordable/workforce housing.”

From the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership: “Home prices in Monterey County increased by over 25 percent even during the Covid-19 pandemic. Given the strength of current market conditions, the board should enforce an inclusionary percentage of 35 percent and no lower than 25 percent if absolutely necessary.”

Who decides “absolutely necessary?” The developer says they’re already there—and notes that the addition of workforce housing, instead of just low-income and moderate-income housing will have the effect of making a more accessible housing community—Williams’ employees earn too much to qualify, he notes. 

As of this writing, the Carmel Valley Association—formerly a plaintiff against the developer—is in continued settlement talks with Rancho Cañada Ventures about coming to agreement on a few outstanding issues. CVA President Pris Walton won’t say what those are, but says conversations have been amicable, and overall she and the CVA are happy to see how the project has evolved. 

You can tune in for the discussion tomorrow via Zoom—either just to listen, or to make comments—starting at 9am at this link. The meeting password is 119355. And if you want to peruse that 779-page EIR? Here you go, and happy reading

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