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C.V. Incorporation Hits EIR Roadblock

Carmel Pine Cone, Oct. 20, 2006



By CHRIS COUNTS

JUST WHEN it seemed an election to create a Town of Carmel Valley might be scheduled for next summer, the Local Agency Formation Commission voted 5-2 late Wednesday night to require an environmental impact report instead. The requirement could delay an incorporation vote for a year or more. Or it could kill the plan outright.

Supporters of incorporation let out a collective gasp as commissioner and Gonzales Mayor Matt Gourley made a motion to require the EIR. Gourley was particularly concerned the incorporation proposal made no mention of the impacts of affordable housing. State law requires all cities and towns to offer affordable housing opportunities.

“I am a firm believer in local control ... but houses are going to have to be built,” Gourley predicted. “Where’s the environmental document for that?”

Commissioner and 2nd District Supervisor Lou Calcagno agreed with Gourley’s assessment.

“I’m supporting the right of the people to vote, but let’s get the environmental document done,” Calcagno suggested. “Let’s be safe rather than sorry.”

Their comments were at odds with a unanimous vote of the same commissioners last December, when they decided the incorporation proposal could proceed with a negative declaration — an environmental document that concluded creating a new town in Carmel Valley would have no significant effect on the environment and should not require the preparation of an EIR. In an impassioned last-minute plea to his fellow LAFCO members, commissioner Vince DiMaggio pointed out this contradiction, warning the commission would “lose all credibility” if it backtracked on its earlier stance.

Chair Tom Perkins acknowledged the commission previously endorsed the negative declaration, but he blamed it on the proponents’ refusal to fund an EIR.

“We wanted an EIR,” Perkins conceded. “Perhaps we shouldn’t have yielded.”

Before taking a vote, commissioners also expressed concerns about the proposal’s fiscal study and questioned whether all three population centers in Carmel Valley — the mouth of the valley, mid-valley and the Village — belong inside the boundaries of one town.

Perkins, Calcagno, Gourley, Jerry Smith and Ralph Rubio voted for the motion to require an EIR. DiMaggio and Anne McGowan voted against it. Anna Caballero was absent.


Was activism easier in 1776?

The Oct. 19 vote followed nearly five hours of often contentious public testimony. Perhaps most fitting of all were comments from proponent Elizabeth Robinson on the length of the incorporation process. In a stirring speech, she repeatedly referred to the similarities between 18th century patriots and 21st century incorporation activists.

“The American Revolution took six years and six months,” Robinson informed the audience at the Monterey County Government Center. “The incorporation process has already taken six years and seven months.”

Despite her eloquence, LAFCO sided with opponents, disappointing a large segment of the audience. In particular, her husband, Glenn Robinson was critical of the commission’s decision.

“This is a miscarriage of justice,” insisted Robinson, one of the most outspoken supporters of bringing incorporation to a vote. “In December, the commission voted unanimously for a negative declaration. We had an independent expert’s opinion. It was a slam dunk. Now they overturn that unanimous decision.”

Robinson called the ruling “a clear example of EIR abuse.”

“Vince [DiMaggio] was right,” he said. “This was a backdoor way to kill incorporation. Listen to what all five commissioners [who voted for the motion] said. They were reading from the same script.”

Like many proponents, Robinson can’t understand why there is so much opposition to simply letting local residents vote on the incorporation issue.

“LAFCO refused to let the people of Carmel Valley choose their own destiny.”

Robinson and leading incorporation opponent Bob Sinotte have traded barbs over the incorporation issue for more than two years. Sinotte, understandably, was pleased with the outcome of this week’s hearing.

“I feel vindicated and I feel happy for the 15 residents associations that wanted to be excluded from the town,” he said.

At the hearing, Sinotte argued the mouth of the valley and the Village are two distinct communities, a point that clearly weighed on the commissioners.

“We are a separate community” explained Sinotte. “We have our own issues.”

Sinotte said he believed incorporation would ultimately fail, even if it did reach the ballot box.

“The commission finally recognized there was no support for incorporation at the mouth of the valley or in the Village,” he said.
So is incorporation still possible? While proponents haven’t commented on their next move, opponent Mel Steckler believes the EIR will impact more than just the coffers of town activists.

“The vote by LAFCO was critical,” Steckler said. “We’re in a whole new ball game now. An EIR can trigger all kinds of things, such as a boundary analysis. Any change in the boundaries will trigger a reconsideration of the revenue neutrality agreement. It looks like the fiscal analysis will need to be revised. When you look at the time line and add all these things up, how can this trolley be put back on the track?”



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