Improvements still needed in new Monterey County General Plan
by Julie Engell
Monterey County’s fifth attempt to update its 1982 General Plan (GPU5) is trundling forward once again during the holidays, with a draft EIR tentatively scheduled for release at year's end. County staff anticipates the Board of Supervisors will certify the final EIR and adopt GPU5 sometime in March.
|The board has retained Butterfly Village as a "Special Study Area," clearly signaling their intention, despite overwhelming public opposition, to develop the area.
The EIR currently being drafted is based upon what the board characterizes as a compromise between the board's pro-growth, fourth General Plan attempt (GPU4) and Measure A, an initiative which limited further rural subdivisions to five existing communities in the County’s unincorporated area. Both GPU4 and Measure A were rejected by equal margins at the polls, leaving the county in a general plan stalemate.
However, voters were unequivocal in their rejection of Butterfly Village, the first phase of the massive Rancho San Juan. Sixty-five percent of voters said no to Butterfly Village, a development the county first approved under the 1982 General Plan and, facing a referendum, re-approved through policy under GPU4.
From Sierra Club's perspective, some progress has been made toward a more rational general plan. However, significant concerns remain unresolved.
The board's following policy stipulations are steps in the right direction:
• Citing severe water and traffic problems, which the board ignored during previous updates, Prunedale, Toro Park and San Benancio/Corral de Tierra were removed as Rural Centers. Rural Centers are areas targeted for growth over the next 20 years. Moreover, citing the same concerns, the board directed that further subdivision be prohibited in North County, along Highway 68, and in the Greater Salinas Area north of Williams Road.
• The board acknowledged long-standing area plan policies in Carmel Valley and directed staff to include a policy limiting additional subdivision there to 266 new lots.
• The board reinstated several 1982 General Plan agricultural policies which had been removed from pervious update versions. Among the most important is a policy which prohibits subdivision of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes.
• The board increased, from 20% to 35%, the percentage of affordable housing created by new subdivisions.
• The board limited the number of times the general plan can be amended to twice per year.
The following concerns from GPU4 remain unresolved:
• The board retained the winery corridor which includes potential for 40 artisan wineries and 10 full-scale wineries. Wineries within the winery corridor would require only a ministerial permit for approval. This would bypass environmental review and public hearings on each winery, which by definition, could include a host of industrial, commercial, and visitor-serving uses.
• Vintners also convinced the board to allow cultivation on slopes of 25% or greater with nothing more than a permit. Since 1982, Monterey County has prohibited cultivation on slopes over 25%. This is cause for concern, because it could convert to cultivation more than 500,000 acres, much of it important habitat land.
• The board also retained GPU4’s huge expansion of permitted activities defined as “routine and on-going agricultural practices.” Under these policies, even some major industrial uses would be included and allowed with no environmental review or public hearing.
• Supervisors retained the GPU4 policy reducing standards of service on county roads from Level of Service C to Level of Service D. According to Supervisors, to prevent further deterioration in county roads, they promised to implement a Capital Funding and Improvement Program, including regional development fees, within 18 months of adoption of the new General Plan. The Capital Funding Program is supposed to account for all facilities and services required by growth over the term of the General Plan. Although Supervisors directed staff to update facilities costs annually, they refused to link increased costs to development fees or establish any policies which would prevent further, growth-induced deterioration in public facilities and services.
• The board has also retained Butterfly Village as a “Special Study Area” in GPU5, clearly signaling their intention, despite overwhelming public opposition, to develop the area.
The Ventana Chapter of the Sierra Club will continue to demand that Monterey County produce a General Plan that satisfies the legal requirements of State Planning Law and the California Environmental Quality Act. We are gratified to see supervisors finally acknowledge the severe water problems faced by many county residents. However, we are mindful of the ease with which the board amends the General Plan to suit development interests.
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