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Incorporation Threatens A Way of Life

Monterey Herald, Jan. 23, 2005


Guest Commentary

Carmel Valley property owners believe their sleepy valley is about to open an incorporation Pandora's box on the pretense of "just looking into it." According to Economic and Planning Systems Inc., the company that conducted the incorporation study, Carmel Valley City "may" be financially feasible, conditional to many caveats and unstudied issues. It barely addresses, for example, the thousands of property owners and hundreds of business owners who do not support incorporation and do not want to be drawn into its boundaries.

It does not address the tens of millions of dollars of needed pavement rehabilitation and road replacement costs. It does not address valley nitrate contamination that may require an immensely expensive sewer system and an extensive environmental impact report.

It avoids highlighting the estimated $2.5 million needed for annual mitigation payments to the county that would significantly drag the city into the red.

And it barely addresses the alarming reliance of Carmel Valley City on the hospitality and retail industry for nearly 70 percent of its revenues.

Why are Carmel Valley property owners so strongly opposed to incorporation? The reasons are many, but one underlying concern stands out: they believe their way of life, as celebrated and portrayed in the Carmel Valley Country magazine, a lifestyle and innocence that long ago disappeared in neighboring cities, is about to be gambled away. The rancid political climate in these cities is a forewarning of valley politics, as regional issues in every valley election would turn its three diverse communities -- the Mouth, Mid Valley and the Village -- against each other. The mudslinging has already begun.

Why do unincorporated areas remain largely rural while cities squeeze more and more development into fewer and fewer spaces? Community involvement, successful land-use planning, poor road and sewer infrastructure, water rationing, land trusts and minimal work-force housing have all played a role in preserving much of the valley's open spaces. Even September Ranch has proposed only 95 homes on 900 acres, and Rancho San Carlos has projected only 300 homes on 20,000 acres. The key underlying reason for the valley's rural character, however, is that it is not incorporated.

Cities do two things very well: they create revenues and they spend revenues. Neighboring cities are especially skilled at promoting development while preserving little or no rural character. All neighboring cities are plagued with varying stages of financial instability. Carmel Valley City/Town would need every proposed development, tourist festival and health resort just to keep up with its monumental road burden and its new expensive sewer system.

In the last year, activists began referring to their 44-square-mile municipality as a "town." Who are they fooling? With 68 miles of roads (144 lane-miles); $40 million to $60 million of needed road reconstruction; $3 million needed to replace the failed road system every year (only $327,000 is budgeted for minimal road maintenance); 35 to 40 miles of roads that don't meet current development standards (re-engineering these roads, according to county officials, would cost $100 million to $150 million); bridges that need replacing; a municipality alarmingly tied to the tourist industry; a land mass larger than all the other Peninsula cities combined; a planning department with 10 employees; a public works department with just two half-time employees; nitrate seepage in groundwater; an inevitably expensive sewer system; work-force housing projects; social planners; a river that regularly floods; activists who regularly sue; and a developer-financed initial study that set the whole process into motion.

If it barks, wags its tail and chases the mailman, it's not likely to be a cat -- even if it's named "Kitty." So too, a city by any other name is still a city.

Either way, 84 percent of polled respondents from Carmel Valley Village and 15 valley associations and 89 percent of 79 polled business owners don't want it. They recognize that incorporation will not build goodwill and better friendships nor will it preserve the valley's rural character. Now that activists have "looked into it," hopefully the people of the valley will close the lid and bury the box.

Robert A. Sinotte is president of Carmel Views Community Association.

Last Updated: Dec 07, 08

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