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Cityhood Proponents Face New Hurdle: Environmental Study Required for Carmel Valley Bid

Monterey Herald, Jan. 25, 2005



By KEVIN HOWE
Herald Staff Writer

Despite pleas by incorporation proponents to give them a pass, the Local Agency Formation Commission of Monterey County voted 6-2 Monday to require an environmental issues study on possible incorporation of Carmel Valley.

Commissioner Anna Caballero moved to require the initial environmental study recommended by LAFCO Executive Director Kate McKenna after hearing testimony for and against requiring a review of possible environmental effects of forming a city in the largely rural valley.

She said that there is more to establishing a city than just a name change.

Caballero, mayor of Salinas, Monterey County's largest city, said a city "has a lot of obligations that unincorporated areas don't," including providing public facilities for meetings and city business, meeting affordable housing quotas, cleaning up any runoff water from storm drains, holding elections and paying for programs the state requires but doesn't fund.

County Supervisor and former Seaside Mayor Jerry Smith agreed, noting that the scenic corridors of Highway 1 and Carmel Valley Road would be affected by creation of a city and that, alone, would justify at least the initial study under the California Environmental Quality Act.

The initial study would have to be paid for by incorporation proponents. Several rose to argue that a negative declaration -- no environmental effects -- should be filed to save time and costs.

Attorney Michael Stamp submitted a letter contending that incorporation is not a "project" under the Environmental Quality Act, and members of the Carmel Valley Forum, many of whose members were involved in last spring's petition drive that launched the incorporation process, also spoke against requiring an environmental study.

Valley resident John Dalessio said an exemption would give the commissioners "an easy out" and is more likely to avoid future litigation over the incorporation.

"A categorical exemption is appropriate," said Carmel Valley Association President Glen Robinson, since the boundaries of the proposed new "town" of Carmel Valley are the same as the 28,000-acre Carmel Valley Master Plan area, which runs from Highway 1 to east of Carmel Valley Village and from ridgetop to ridgetop, north and south.

Incorporation opponents felt a full-blown environmental impact report was called for.

"It's hard to believe you would even think of not doing an EIR," said Lawrence Samuels, secretary of the newly formed incorporation opposition group Save the Valley -- No City.

A city would require construction of a sewer line, a city hall, low-income housing and other development, he said.

Commissioner Ann McGowan agreed with Stamp that, without a boundary change, the incorporation shouldn't require an environmental review, and Commissioner Vince DiMaggio, who voted with her in the minority against requiring the initial study, said the state environmental law doesn't allow governing bodies to consider possible future projects if an incorporation is approved.

Opponents also took issue with a financial feasibility study released this month by the Local Agency Formation Commission staff saying that Carmel Valley, if formed as a city, could support itself and provide required municipal services.

Mel Steckler of Save the Valley -- No City called the feasibility study "unrealistic" and it describes "a bare bones city, thinly staffed with a marginal capacity to provide services for its citizens."

The initial environmental study and financial feasibility study are two of four that must be completed as part of the incorporation process, McKenna said. A municipal services plan and negotiations with the county on "revenue neutrality" -- a determination that the new city won't cost the county government tax money for services -- are in the works.

The incorporation issue is expected to come back before the commission at its March 28 meeting.



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