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   Conservation Issues of the Ventana Chapter | monterey county

Development deluge in Monterey Co.

Scenic areas such as this south Monterey County ranchland dotted with native oaks could become a landfill or lost to development without a good, community-based General Plan.
photo: Hannah Eade

Currently, Monterey County seems to be fast tracking all development projects, overloading the general public, the planning staff, the Planning Commission, and ultimately, the Board of Supervisors. This glut of projects comes during the holiday season when citizens are out of town or entertaining family and guests. It comes when the general plan itself is under revision and at a time when a new supervisor and a new County Chief Administrative Officer are coming on board.

The Ventana Chapter cannot understand why the Planning Department does not have enough staff for the General Plan Update and for critical code enforcement, yet seems to have plenty of staff to process all these complex development applications.

Here is what the Planning Department has been up to:

November 1. Comments were due on the Draft EIR for East Garrison, a development of 1470 residences proposed for the far easterly part of the former Fort Ord.

November 10. Comments were due on the Revised Draft EIR for the Pebble Beach project asking for a combined development permit for new projects at 13 locations in the Del Monte Forest including a new golf course and 160 new visitor suites at Spanish Bay. This project would destroy 15,000 native Monterey pines and related habitat.

November 15-16. Planning Commission hearings were held for Rancho San Juan, including a specific plan for Butterfly Village, a 1077 residential-golf course development. Rancho San Juan will eventually have 4000 housing units for 13,000 people and a 2.4-million-square-foot business park along Highway 101. To make the project consistent with the County's General Plan, more than 20 goals and policies must be amended. Rancho San Juan will have enormous traffic and water impacts. The project is not supported by the city of Salinas.

The Fiscal Impact Analysis and CSD Feasibility Study for Butterfly Village and the Facility Financing Analysis for Rancho San Juan were not released for public review until November 2. These documents are essential to determining the feasibility and adequacy of proposed mitigations for the project. However, they were never available during the circulation period for the Draft EIR which ended in early July.

The draft Development Agreement between the County and HYH Corporation, developer of Butterfly Village, were not released until November 5. The Development Agreement permanently transfers rights held by the public to the developer. It is a 49-page contract.

The Final EIR for the combined project was released November 13, leaving only the intervening weekend for review prior to the November 15 Planning Commission hearing. Despite numerous substantive comments on the Draft EIR, it was not modified and re-circulated for a second round of comment.

Each of these documents is significant to the project; all are interrelated. However, none was available to the Planning Commission more than a few days before the hearings began. The documents weighed 16 lbs. and were not available to the public in hard copy at the Planning Department. A clearly irritated Planning Commission scheduled future hearings in an attempt to wrap up the Rancho San Juan hearings by early December.

November 17. The Planning Commission approved a huge Safeway at the Crossroads at the mouth of Carmel Valley creating an unwelcome commercial visual impact on scenic Highway 1, the entrance to Big Sur, and involving flood plain issues due to levy changes. The two commissioners who live in the affected district voted against the project.

November 17. The Planning Commission held its first hearing for the East Garrison Specific Plan even though the Final EIR (FEIR) had not been published. (At Ventana press time the promised date for the FEIR was November 22, "at the earliest.") The FEIR came just three weeks after the comments for the Draft EIR were due and during Thanksgiving Week. A second hearing is scheduled for January 19.

November 18. The County Subdivision Committee hearing for the Pebble Beach Revised Draft EIR.

November 30. The Board of Supervisors hearing on the Pebble Beach Revised Draft EIR.

All this frenzied development activity comes at the same time as there were important environmental issues to be addressed in local, state and national elections. Also there were important forums regarding desalinization projects and the County's General Plan Update.

It is hard to believe that the Monterey County Planning Department and Planning Commission can review all the voluminous documents within this short time frame and make any careful and reasoned decisions. Furthermore, it is glaringly unjust to the general public who will bear the impacts of development decisions and who were given little time to study and respond to the proposed projects.

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