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Eastwood donation, BSLT plan promise flood and water shortage relief


Published: June 7, 2013

THE DANGER of flooding to homes and businesses along the north side of the Carmel River, and of an economic disaster for the entire Monterey Peninsula from the looming state-imposed water cutback, will be alleviated by a project spearheaded by the Big Sur Land Trust which hinges on a major donation from former Carmel Mayor Clint Eastwood.

Eastwood said this week he’ll give more than 80 acres of the old Odello artichoke fields on the east side of Highway 1 to the Big Sur Land Trust so they can be used to channel flood waters safely to the Pacific Ocean. And a big portion of the potable water that’s been historically used on the property for agriculture will be made available to Cal Am and private property owners in Carmel and Carmel Valley, Eastwood said.

“I’ve lived here full-time since the 1960s, and I always enjoyed looking at the fields and the open space on this property, and I just want to keep it the same,” Eastwood told The Pine Cone during a tour of the property Tuesday.

At one time approved for more than 80 houses, the highly scenic land lies between Palo Corona Ranch and the Carmel River. In 1995, Eastwood and his former wife, Maggie, bought it from the Odello family, which had farmed the land for years and obtained development approvals from Monterey County in the 1960s. Two years later, the Eastwoods donated about 50 acres where the subdivision had been approved to the land trust. And now, Eastwood wants to give it the rest.

“I bought it to keep the houses from being built,” Eastwood said. “And now the goal is to give the rest to the Big Sur Land Trust, and they’ll keep it out of development.”

More than 190 acre-feet of water has been used every year on the land for grazing and row crops, he added. Of that, 60 will stay on the property so the BSLT can keep some of the land either in farming or grazing. Another 45 acre-feet will be no longer be pumped, so it can stay in the river. And the rest — about 85 acre-feet — will be contracted to Cal Am to supplement the Monterey Peninsula’s legal supply during the looming crunch, and then made available to private property owners who need it for additions to homes, infill development and business expansions.

Approval from the State Water Resources Control Board will be needed for the water deal before the transfer of the land to the BSLT can be completed, said Alan Williams, a longtime Eastwood business associate.

“We already have licensing of the water, and now we’ll be able to ask for permission to move some of it,” Williams said.

Local officials welcomed the prospect of an enhancement of the local water supply — however small — pending completion of a new water supply project for the Monterey Peninsula, especially since that new water project, whatever form it takes, still has a long way to go before it’s approved, much less built.

“Having more water for lots of record, having more water to enable restaurants to add a few seats, to allow people to add a bathroom if they want, to be able to have an apartment upstairs in the commercial core ... there are all sorts of wonderful things this community would love to have, and we’re being held back because of a lack of water,” said Carmel Mayor Jason Burnett. He said the Carmel City Council would be doing its “due diligence” to determine how best to use some of Eastwood’s water, if it becomes available.

Getting the water, Burnett said, would “put the decision-making power over land uses back where it belongs, in the hands of the elected representatives of the people of Carmel.”

“Desal and all that are all good, but maybe nothing’s going to get built in our lifetime,” Eastwood said. “Eighty-five acre-feet can do a lot of good.”

But even more enthusiastic support for the land trust’s flood control project is coming from business owners and residents along the river — especially those who remember the floods during the 1990s.

“The single most important step for protecting the Mission Fields and Crossroads areas from future flooding is to allow more flood water to flow south of the river, instead of flooding the developed north bank,” said Larry Levine, who chairs a county advisory committee on flood prevention in Carmel Valley.

“The county has to get on the stick and get this done,” said Margaret Robbins, who lives near the river, and whose home nearly flooded in 1995 and 1998. “The Crossroads shopping center has 50 stores that need protection, Arroyo Carmel and Riverwood have almost 200 units that need protection, and Mission Fields has almost 300 units.”

She said $14 million in grant money is available to get the work done, but a big chunk of that is going to expire at the end of the summer unless action is taken.

At a meeting of the Monterey County Board of Supervisors capital improvement projects subcommittee Monday, it was agreed that the county should be the lead agency for the flood-control work, and the board itself will probably agree, according to 5th District Supervisor Dave Potter.

“The floods in 1998 were devastating,” Potter said. “This is a great, great project.”

Opening up the land Eastwood plans to donate is one part of the work anticipated by the Big Sur Land Trust, which has secured the $14 million funding, according to executive director Bill Leahy. More will be needed, however.

“We are working with Monterey County to identify the remaining funding needed, secure the funding and a set a time frame to break ground,” Leahy said.

Lots to do

Why will the work be so costly?

Eastwood has already moved, at his own expense, a huge amount of fill and debris that was dumped on the Odello property in the 1930s during construction of a hotel in downtown Monterey. The fill, known as “the blister,” impeded the flow of floodwaters across the Odello land. Eastwood also notched the levee along the south side of the river to direct some high water onto his land.

The latest project involves removing a one-half mile section of the levee, which would open the floodgates from the river to the undeveloped land immediately to the south. It also calls for removal of the berm that carries Highway 1 across the Odello/Eastwood land, replacing it with a causeway so water can flow freely on its way to the ocean. And the BSLT plans to create a network of trails connecting the north side of the river to the land Eastwood is donating, and then to Palo Corona Ranch and beyond.

“We are frustrated at the slow progress in actually getting any work started, but we are also appreciative of all the agencies, organizations and funders who are so supporting of the project,” Levine said.

“Besides making some water available, the project would also have huge environmental benefits for the community and for the river,” Burnett said. “It’s going to be a win-win-win.”

“The land trust is working with the Eastwoods on structuring the project to allow us to move forward,” Leahy said. “Permitting has not yet begun.”