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Monterey County Voters To Decide On Competing General Plans

CP&DR Staff on
Feb 1, 2007

Monterey County voters in June may decide as many as three ballot measures regarding the county general plan. The Board of Supervisors approved a new general plan on January 3. At the same time, the board agreed to ask voters whether they want to keep the new plan. The board also consented to placing on the ballot a general plan initiative backed by environmental and homeowner organizations. The county had originally refused to put the initiative on the ballot (see CP&DR In Brief, October 2006;CP&DR, May 2006).

Meanwhile, backers of the initiative have gathered signatures to force a referendum on the new general plan. They said a referendum is necessary to prevent the new plan from taking effect prior to the June election so that there is not a window for developers to take advantage of the new plan. The plan opponents also said the referendum would present voters with a more straightforward question than the Board of Supervisors had crafted.

The county adopted the updated general plan after seven years of planning and three discarded drafts (see CP&DR Local Watch, July 2004). The new plan designates a number of growth areas, mostly near cities and existing unincorporated communities. Supporters say the plan will help the county accommodate needed housing. Opponents say the plan sacrifices important farmland and encourages sprawl.

The newly adopted plan is available at www.co.monterey.ca.us/pbi/gpu.

A controversial Carmel Valley subdivision is back in court six years after a state appellate court rejected an earlier environmental impact report for the project.

The Monterey County Board of Supervisors approved the September Ranch project in December. The project calls for 73 market-rate houses, 15 inclusionary units and seven units of workforce housing on about 100 acres. The remainder of the nearly 900-acre site will remain as an equestrian center and open space.

In 2001, the Sixth District Court of Appeal used the September Ranch project to make an important ruling regarding baseline conditions for environmental studies. The issue concerned how much water had historically been used for farming on the site, and, therefore, how much water would be available for what was then a 109-unit project. The amount of agricultural water use increased during the 3 1/2 years the development application was under consideration, and the final EIR relied on the higher volume of water used during the end of the process. The court ruled in Save Our Peninsula Com. V. County of Monterey, 87 Cal.App. 4th 99, that “baseline conditions are normally to be determined at the time environmental review is begun” (see CP&DR Legal Digest, April 2001).

The EIR for the newly approved project says that water for September Ranch is available from a recently discovered aquifer that is separate from the overburdened Carmel Valley aquifer. Project opponents submitted information disputing the analysis, but the county concluded that disagreement among experts was not enough to force changes in the EIR.

In January, three environmental groups filed two separate lawsuits challenging the EIR’s water analysis. Impacts to traffic, historic sites and the Monterey pine forest are also issues.

The flood-control situation in Sacramento continues to evolve rapidly as local, state and federal officials grapple with the city’s inadequate protection from high water.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency revealed in January that it would require all property owners in Sacramento’s Natomas Basin with federally backed loans to purchase flood insurance before the end of the year. The mandate will remain in place until Natomas, the City of Sacramento’s primary growth area, has at least 100-year flood protection.

Also in January, the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency began detailing proposed assessment district changes that would expand the district’s territory and raise existing assessments. Property owners are scheduled to vote on the assessments by mail in March. The revised assessment district would encompass all of Natomas, including undeveloped portions in Sacramento and Sutter counties, where property owners would pay $76 annually. The Flood Control Agency plan is intended to raise $326 million over 30 years to help Natomas achieve 100-year flood protection by 2010, and for the entire area to get 200-year flood protection in following years. The money would match more than $2 billion that local officials hope to receive from the federal and state governments.

These moves follow a state Department of Water Resources request to Sacramento last fall for a growth moratorium in Natomas, a request the city has rebuffed. The state’s request was spurred by a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ announcement that Natomas lacked 100-year flood protection because seepage is weakening levees.

A San Francisco Superior Court Judge has issued a ruling that builds on a 2004 appellate court decision aiding redevelopment agencies in cleaning up brownfields. Judge John Munter ruled that five manufacturers or distributors of dry cleaning chemicals and one dry cleaner are liable for the future costs of cleaning up contamination from the Modesto Steam Laundry & Cleaning operation.

In 2004, the First District Court of Appeal ruled that companies that made or distributed solvents may be held liable for cleanup under the Polanco Act and returned the case to Superior Court (see CP&DR Legal Digest, August 2004).

The City of Modesto and its redevelopment agency contend that dry cleaners disposed of solvent waste by dumping it into the sewer system, from which contaminants leached into soil and groundwater. Last year, a San Francisco jury held the five manufacturers and distributors liable for $3.2 million for harming the city’s drinking water, and Munter assessed punitive damages of $13 million.

The latest ruling assesses liability for future costs and also awards the Modesto Redevelopment Agency $430,000 for work already done at a brownfield site.

“It’s good news for cities who are seeking to clean up contamination in redevelopment areas because it enlarges the pool of potentially responsible parties,” agency attorney Michael Axline, of Miller, Axline & Sawyer, told the Los Angeles Daily Journal.

An appeal of Judge Munter’s ruling is likely. The cases are City of Modesto Redevelopment Agency v. Dow, No. 9993345, and City of Modesto v. Dow, No. 999643.

The Business, Transportation and Housing Agency and the California Environmental Protection Agency have released the “Goods Movement Action Plan,” which is intended to guide allocation of $3.1 billion contained in the $19.9 billion Proposition 1B that voters approved last November.

State and regional officials have been working on the plan for two years to address transportation and environmental problems caused by ever-increasing traffic at shipping ports, especially the port at Los Angeles and Long Beach (see CP&DR Public Development, June 2006). The plan does not necessarily dictate how the money should be spent, rather it provides about 200 “candidate actions” to improve infrastructure, protect public and environmental health, upgrade security and lessen community impacts. The California Transportation Commission, the Air Resources Board and the California Maritime Transportation Security Council will make the ultimate spending decisions.

The Goods Movement Action Plan is available at www.arb.ca.gov/gmp/gmp.htm.

The issue of historic preservation will apparently return to the City of Berkeley ballot, as opponents of a revised landmarks preservation ordinance have submitted petitions to force a referendum.

The city eased its preservation regulations in December, one month after voters rejected a measure that would have locked in existing regulations that were some of the most stringent in the state. But preservation advocates said the revisions favored developers and now want voters to decide again. Unless the city calls a special election, the referendum will appear on the ballot in 2008.

An organization representing mobile home and travel trailer owners on the shores of Lake Berryessa have sued the Bureau of Reclamation over a plan adopted last year that calls for the mobile homes and trailers to be removed. The federal court lawsuit filed by the group Berryessa For All contends that the bureau’s decision was arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion.

The agency adopted the plan in June 2006 with the goal of boosting short-term visitor use at the reservoir in the hills of eastern Napa County. The plan calls for removing more than 1,000 trailers located in seven “resorts” whose leases expire between this year and 2009. The government hopes to lure new concessionaires to develop facilities that may include cabins, motels and campgrounds (see CP&DR Legal Digest, October 2006).

Owners of mobile homes and travel trailers contend they were not given a fair shake during the plan preparation process, which lasted for six years.

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