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Incorporation Opponents Argue for Costly "Silver Bullet"

Carmel Pine Cone, Sept. 30, 2005



By CHRIS COUNTS

TESTIFYING BEFORE the Local Agency Formation Commission Sept. 26, Paul Ingram of Carmel Valley called an environmental impact report the “silver bullet” that could end the drive to incorporate Carmel Valley.

The requirement of a costly EIR has proved to be a substantial obstacle for countless development projects in Monterey County and a major tool for no-growth activists.

Yet, in an ironic twist, the proponents of incorporation — who argue creating a town is the best way to control the pace of development in Carmel Valley — could find their slow-growth efforts defeated by a tool that has traditionally benefited environmental activists.

At Monday’s hearing, LAFCO commissioners voted 6-2 to extend the public comment period from 30 to 60 days on a possible EIR for the proposed new town.

For opponents of incorporation like Bob Sinotte, president of Save Carmel Valley, the extension provides a greater window of opportunity to lobby for the requirement of a full-blown EIR after a study prepared for LAFCO showed an EIR wasn’t necessary.

“The study does not even begin to address this proposed city’s reliance on tourism and the increased traffic it would produce as it promotes itself,” claimed Sinotte in a letter to LAFCO commissioners. At the hearing, he said tourism revenues for the Town of Carmel Valley “would be like heroin to a drug addict.”

Sinotte, who estimates visitor services would account for nearly 70 percent of the city’s revenues, said tourism isn’t the only threat to the overdevelopment of Carmel Valley. He predicted state mandates would eventually require the new town to build low-income housing.

“We need to create a long-term conservation vision ... not a giant tourist-driven city, especially without an extensive EIR,” insisted Sinotte.

Lawrence Samuels, a Carmel Valley resident, agreed with Sinotte.

“Flanders Mansion is only an acre, and it needed a full EIR,” Samuels said. “We really need a full EIR for Carmel Valley. It’s such a sensitive area.”

But in response to Sinotte’s charges that incorporation would lead to a requirement to construct low-income housing, Max Chaplin of the Carmel Valley Forum maintained “low-income housing has nothing to do with an EIR. It’s simply not relevant to the issue.”

Chaplin asked commissioners not to impose any further delays in the drive to put the incorporation issue on the ballot.

“We want to keep this moving along,” Chaplin said. “We’ve been working on it for six years.”

While Chaplin would not concede the requirement of an EIR would end the incorporation effort, he admitted it would present a serious challenge to bringing the issue to a vote.

“In Sacramento County, EIRs have been used as devices for delaying votes,” he said. “It’s an expensive, time-consuming operation.”

Chaplin, a former president of the Big Sur Land Trust, is a board member of the Carmel Valley Forum, a nonprofit organization that is spearheading the drive to put incorporation before voters. The forum is also funding the costs of the incorporation process and would be responsible for paying for the EIR, if commissioners were to require it.

John Dalessio of Carmel Valley also urged commissioners to support the findings of the initial study.
“The last half-dozen cities in California to incorporate did not require full EIRs,” Dalessio said. “Let the citizens determine their destiny.”

In a memorable comment he made to LAFCO commissioners last December, Dalessio said, “One minute we are not a town and the next minute we are a town. What possible environmental impact could happen in that minute?”

‘Driving us crazy’

Because of the extension of the public review period, commissioners will be unable to make any decision on an EIR when they meet again Dec. 6. LAFCO executive officer Kate McKenna said the earliest opportunity they will have to consider the issue is sometime in January.

Barring the requirement of an EIR, voters could have an opportunity to weigh in on incorporation as early as November 2006. If the commission were to require an EIR, an election would be delayed indefinitely, if not permanently.

Overshadowed by the debate surrounding the environmental study, the hearing also featured a presentation on the draft service plan, a document that details how the proposed city’s services — from public works and law enforcement to garbage collection and animal control — would operate.

And while proponents and opponents debate the necessity of an EIR, former 5th District Supervisor Karin Strasser-Kauffman and administrative analyst Nick Chiulos continue their revenue neutrality discussions. They have been negotiating for nine months, and McKenna estimated they will continue talks for another three months.

The revenue discussions represent another hurdle for incorporation proponents. For the Town of Carmel Valley to be viable, proponents need to prove the new city can covers its expenses without detracting from the county’s revenues.

“We’ve had a terrible time getting the numbers straight,” Chaplin said. “It’s been driving us crazy. The process is taking much longer than it should.”

Chaplin is confident the numbers will ultimately prove the aspiring town is financially viable.



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