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Growth key issue in Carmel Valley incorporation debate

Monterey Herald -- Aug. 10, 2009

Incorporation supporters, opponents stake positions


Herald Staff Writer
Updated: 09/10/2009 08:53:19 AM PDT

The fight over Carmel Valley's future went outside the ring Wednesday.

Two proponents and two opponents of incorporation — the movement to turn Carmel Valley into a town — debated the issue Wednesday during a League of Women Voters forum at the Elks Lodge in Monterey.

Scott Dick, who hosts a radio show on KRXA, and Lawrence Samuels stated their reasons for keeping things the way they are. Former County Supervisor Karin Strasser Kauffman and Mike McMillan offered their arguments for forming the town of Carmel Valley.

There were no town hall-like outbursts and no personal shots taken at candidates on either side.

In other words, Wednesday's moderated debate was a departure from what has become the typical discourse on incorporation. In the past, proponents have accused opponents of being in bed with developers, and opponents have accused proponents of overstating the threat of overdevelopment in Carmel Valley and failing to see the problems that come with a local government.

In a traditional debate format Wednesday, the two sides were given a chance to answer eight questions on issues that seem to be on everyone's mind, including the proposed town's fiscal viability, incorporation's potential effect on public services and the environment, and concern about how to unify 12,000 people spread out across 40 square miles along a 12-mile stretch of Carmel Valley Road.

In addition to deciding whether to incorporate, Carmel Valley residents will vote Nov. 3 for five council members and on whether the council members will be elected at-large or from districts.

Strasser Kauffman, Dick and Samuels are running for town council. McMillan is not, though he has been actively promoting incorporation throughout the decade-long push.

Samuels says he does not want to be on the council, but is running to have a platform for arguing against incorporation. Dick says he hopes there won't be a council to serve on, but if there is one, he wants to be on it to represent those who would rather not have a local government.

The two sides alternated answering, with the other side given a chance to rebut.
The crux of the debate was best summed up by a question from the audience toward the end.

The debaters were asked to explain what appears to be a paradox: the two sides say they have the same objective — preserving Carmel Valley's rural nature.

Proponents say forming a town will transfer control from the county to a local government, empowering Carmel Valley residents with control over land-use issues.

"The county has increasingly ignored its own land-use policies in Carmel Valley," Strasser Kauffman said.

Opponents argue the valley is fine the way it is, and creating a city government would complicate life while ultimately enabling development.

"Look around at the locally controlled governments: Pacific Grove, Monterey, Seaside and Carmel-by-the-Sea," Dick said. "All are confronted with serious budget problems, personnel problems, recalls, lawsuits, resignations and political infighting. So I guess the people of Carmel Valley are just superior to the people in all those other communities, where we're not going to have that in Carmel Valley. I doubt that."

Much of the debate revolves around the proposed municipality's financial viability.

The Local Agency Formation Commission, the county organization that oversaw planning of the proposed town, approved putting incorporation to a public vote after a fiscal analysis by an independent consultant showed the town could survive financially.

Proponents say that is proof enough that Carmel Valley can successfully break away from the county and support itself without raising taxes or allowing development to increase the town's tax base.

"California law says a community can't incorporate unless it has sufficient municipal revenue to pay all of its expenses," McMillan said during the debate. "For this reason, only communities that pay more to their county than their county gives them can ever afford to incorporate. So Carmel Valley is the rule and not the exception."

McMillan said real estate values have remained stable in Carmel Valley, despite the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Opponents aren't convinced. They say the analysis is insufficient because it uses old data and does not factor in the impact of excluding the high-end Tehama community from Carmel Valley's boundaries. They also contend the city staff will be larger than projected.

"The plan shows only two part-time people in public works in Carmel Valley," Samuels said, adding that the city of Carmel, which has a population of about 4,000 and is about 1 square mile, has a considerably larger staff. "They're going to have to increase taxes."

Laith Agha can be reached at 646-4358 or

Last Updated: Sep 10, 09

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