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Editorial: C.V. Lawsuits Smack of Stalling, Rehashing

The Monterey Herald's View

Webmaster note:

None of the leaders against incorporation are developers. However, on the other side, Tom Gray, a local Carmel Valley developer, has given the incorporation proponents somewhere between $5,000 (according to the Monterey Herald) to $10,000 (according to Tim Sanders).

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Updated: 02/08/2009 01:38:45 AM PST

It was no surprise to see opponents of Carmel Valley incorporation start filing lawsuits to try to head off the proposal.

They are, of course, within their rights to go to court. Important decisions, especially those affecting land use, are seldom made without litigation. Those on the other side of this debate have not been shy about making good use of the courts.

But we are disappointed anyway. That is partly because so much of the ground the opposition seeks to plow in court has been so thoroughly turned over already, and partly because supporters of incorporation already have been subjected to a series of unfair stalling tactics.

In one of the lawsuits filed in the name of Carmel Valley lawyer Frank Lunding, the chief allegation is that the decision to put incorporation to a public vote was based on flawed analysis of the town's financial viability. That is a question of large concern to anyone involved in deciding Carmel Valley's future. It has, however, been hashed over and over again by the Local Agency Formation Commission, which oversees the incorporation process, and will be revisited at length if the incorporation question ever moves to a vote.

The notion that a judge or jury needs to weigh in on the analysis seems to be little more than a delay tactic. Some incorporation opponents are hoping the idea simply goes away while others are hoping to get some pet projects through while the valley remains under county jurisdiction.

Another Lunding suit argues that LAFCO incorrectly evaluated the potential environmental impact. It contends that a new town of Carmel Valley might promote development — a disingenuous argument considering that most incorporation supporters have the opposite intent.

The second suit, like the first, raises issues that have been addressed at considerable length, both by LAFCO and the courts. The scent of a stall rises from this action as well.

Finally, there is the recent letter to federal civil rights officials from the same Orange County law firm that represents Lunding. It argues that the public should not be allowed to vote on incorporation because forming a city in such an upscale and largely white area would disenfranchise minority voters.
This argument actually is more interesting than Lunding's other assertions, but those raising it seem to forget that minority voters within Carmel Valley would vote in municipal elections while maintaining their ability to vote in county elections, just as Monterey and Salinas voters today are able to vote for county supervisors as well as city council members. How does that reduce their influence?
If development interests are behind these opposition moves, which does not seem unlikely, they could easily overwhelm incorporation supporters financially and keep the litigation alive indefinitely, regardless of its merits.

Better options would be for the courts to dismiss the cases early on in favor of a democratic process and for legitimate opponents of incorporation to lobby within their own circle for an honest debate via the ballot box instead of the courtroom.

Last Updated: Feb 11, 09

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