General plans to compete on June ballot


Published: January 5, 2007

AFTER AN entire day of listening to more than 40 speakers Wednesday, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors finally approved a new general plan, the county’s growth outline it’s worked on for more than seven years. But the long-awaited decision didn’t sit well with most.

Supervisors also voted to place the newly enacted general plan on the June ballot, and went further by deciding to allow a competing, slow-growth initiative, sponsored by LandWatch Monterey County, to join it. They also vowed the county’s general plan would be translated into Spanish.

“I think it’s a reasonable compromise,” said 1st District Supervisor Fernando Armenta. “Let the community tell us if they are interested in supporting this plan or not.”

The meeting, which drew a big crowd, lasted about six hours. Whichever general plan ends up being adopted, it will not have any effect in cities or the county’s coastal areas, which have their own general plans. The main impact will be in Carmel Valley, the Salinas Valley and North Monterey County — all regions with plenty of ag land and lots of people looking for housing and jobs.

Opponents of the supervisors’ general plan, including 5th District Supervisor Dave Potter — the lone dissenter in the vote to approve it — expressed concern supervisors might not be serious about putting their plan before the voters.

What guarantee is there that the future board “can’t change their minds” about the election, Potter asked. In two weeks, former assemblyman Simon Salinas will replace 3rd District Supervisor Butch Lindley, whose term expires.

Responding to Potter’s concerns, the board voted to require a unanimous vote before the election could be canceled, in effect giving Potter a veto.

Repeal vs. approval

Slow-growth groups praised the idea of having competing general plans on the June ballot so both could get a “fair shake” but criticized the supervisors’ decision to let their general plan go into effect in 30 days. That would put voters in the position of deciding whether to repeal the supervisors’ plan rather to approve it — a difference which seems trivial but could play a key role in election strategies by both sides.

“There is a huge difference between making sure this general plan is subject to the approval of the citizens or subject to repeal,” said Chris Fitz, executive director of LandWatch Monterey County.

Potter agreed. “You will have all sorts of confusion [on the ballot],” he said.

Fitz and his allies said Thursday they would begin gathering thousands of signatures needed for a referendum, which would prevent the general plan from becoming law in 30 days and would make it subject to voter approval, instead of repeal, in June.

The LandWatch-led initiative, formally titled, Amendment of the Monterey County General Plan, including the North County Land Use Plan, would prevent more development than the supervisors’ plan and would restrict growth in most rural areas of the county.

Supporters of the county’s general plan weren’t completely satisfied with Thursday’s outcome, either. Many wanted approval of the document without having it go before voters.

“Your constituents elected you to make the tough decisions,” Bob Perkins, executive director of the Monterey County Farm Bureau, told supervisors before their decision. “You must take responsibility for the plan by making your decision final.”

Salinas Valley farmer Chris Bunn said although the supervisors’ plan isn’t perfect, it’s a representation of the democratic process. “Many farmers like myself aren’t excited by this plan,” he said. “But it’s something you developed and we were all participants in this process.”

En Español

The board also chose to have the initiative, the general plan and a portion of the environmental impact report translated into Spanish. The move will cost the county an estimated $80,000.

“It’s a very large document,” Alana Knaster, chief assistant director of the county’s planning and building inspection department, said of the general plan. “I believe it would take several months to do that.”

Included in the new general plan is an agricultural wine corridor, which would help draw small wineries. Monterey County has one winery for every 2,000 acres, compared to Napa, which has one for every 150 to 200 acres, according to industry experts.