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Carmel Valley EIR Unnecessary, Says Judge: Incorporation Not Considered A Project

Monterey Herald, 5-8-2008



By LAITH AGHA
Herald Staff Writer

More than a year and a half after the Local Agency Formation Commission ordered proponents of Carmel Valley incorporation to prepare a costly environmental impact report, a Monterey County Superior Court judge said the document is unnecessary.

The ruling Wednesday by Superior Court Judge Lydia Villarreal promises to remove a major roadblock to putting the issue before Carmel Valley voters, which proponents have been seeking for nearly eight years.

"It's a huge victory and a very important decision," said Michael Stamp, attorney for the Carmel Valley Forum, the organization representing Carmel Valley residents seeking incorporation. "It's time to look now at how we get this to the voters as soon as possible."

Villareal ruled that concerns cited by commissioners — regarding traffic, potential boundary adjustments, and possible construction of a town hall and affordable housing units — were based on speculation or would not be directly tied to the incorporation process. As a result, they did not justify the ordering of an environmental review, the judge said.

The commission "abused its discretion when it decided that incorporation of the town of Carmel Valley was a project and that an EIR was required," Villareal wrote. "There is no substantial evidence in the whole record of any potential effect on the physical environment."

On Wednesday, commission Executive Director Kate McKenna said she hadn't seen the ruling and was unable to comment.

Vince DiMaggio, commission chairman, said Villareal came to the right conclusion.
"It's so clear that incorporation is exempt" under California's Environmental Quality Act, DiMaggio said. "The judge's decision that incorporation is not a project is absolutely correct."

DiMaggio was one of two commissioners who opposed ordering the environmental document in an October 2006 decision.

"I think people were confused using things like affordable housing and city hall," DiMaggio said. "That's all speculative. You can not use speculation" to order an EIR.

Carmel Valley Forum President Max Chaplin said the decision was a positive development, though it may not be the final hurdle to getting the matter on a ballot.

"The general tone of the ruling is very encouraging," Chaplin said. "This isn't the end of it, but it is a very, very encouraging step."

DiMaggio said the commission still has some concerns regarding the fiscal analysis and boundaries for the proposed incorporated area.

"I don't think the ruling means we immediately hold a hearing and immediately send this to a vote," DiMaggio said. "We are a lot closer to a hearing that will result in us sending the issue to the people."
DiMaggio pointed to the general election in November as a reasonable target date for incorporation to appear on the ballot.

The commission has scheduled a closed session discussion on the case for May 19, DiMaggio said. A public hearing is not currently scheduled, he said.

"Right now we need to have our attorneys analyze the decision and figure out what the next step is going to be," DiMaggio said.

Laith Agha can be reached at 646-4358 or lagha@montereyherald.com.



Last Updated: Dec 07, 08

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