LandWatch Comments on the Economy, Jobs & Housing

March 15, 2004

John Wilmot, Chair
Monterey County Planning Commission
240 Church Street
Salinas, CA 94901

RE: The Economy, Jobs & Housing

Dear Members of the Commission:

The focus for your March 17th hearing on the General Plan Update is the “Economy, Jobs & Housing."

LandWatch urges you to make changes to the current draft that will better support the long term health of the County’s economy, that will balance job and housing production, and that will produce more affordable housing available to those who currently work in or reside in Monterey County.

Our specific recommendations will be forthcoming on or before your March 26th deadline. We urge the Commission not to begin trying to “make changes" in the draft document until you have completed your public hearing and comment period, on March 26th, and have received the recommendations of all persons interested in the General Plan Update who want to comment. Everyone is working on a very “tight timeline" to get comments to you, and members of the public, frankly, have been upset to hear some Commissioners complain that the public comments received in your hearings (where 3-minutes is the limit for comments) are not “substantive."

LandWatch—and I believe others—assume that your March 26th deadline is meaningful, and that the Commission and its members will not start “making up their minds" and begin evaluating possible changes to the current draft until after that March 26th deadline has passed, and you’ve heard from everyone who chooses to comment. That is the only way to treat the public fairly. The deadline was set by the Commission. We and others plan to meet it, and we do not appreciate complaints that we have not submitted “substantive" comments prior to the deadline that you yourselves have established.

I make this observation with particular reference to detailed comments submitted by the self-styled “Refinement Group," which in fact is the “Business and Development Group." The group is improperly using the “Refinement Group" name (since the Refinement Group established by the Board of Supervisors was officially terminated by the Board some months ago). It has a membership closely paralleling the 21st Century Solutions coalition that has consistently opposed the draft General Plan Update. The so-called “Refinement Group" has been working on its detailed comments for months, and is making comments based on a former draft of the GPU. Please let the public at least have the benefit of the timeline you established, in commenting on the current draft of the General Plan Update.

The Economy, Jobs & Housing – Listen To The Experts

The Economic Impact Analysis on the GPU, prepared by Applied Development Economics, convincingly demonstrates that stopping rural subdivisions, and focusing new growth into existing urban areas, will provide the best fiscal and economic effects for Monterey County. In other words, this study validates what the public has been telling you, and what the Twelve Guiding Objectives mandate.

Specifically, the Economic Impact Analysis says:

  1. Unincorporated development exerts higher service costs on County government, than does growth in the cities. Of the $11 million incremental deficit created by the GPU growth, $10 million is associated with unincorporated development, and only $1 million with city growth, despite the much higher growth levels in the cities [Page ii; Page 18].

  2. More than 85 percent of workers need housing priced at $376,000 or less [Page v].

  3. Residential development should not outpace job development in each area [Page vii].

  4. From a policy perspective, the County may wish to avoid encouraging substantial industrial development in the unincorporated area in the Central Salinas Valley or South County [Page 7].

  5. Lower growth scenarios show a smaller deficit, while the higher growth scenarios increase the County’s fiscal deficit [Page 9; Page 17].The study…identified the cost to the County, per residence, for residents who live in the unincorporated County but work in another county. This cost is estimated at $466 per residence [per year], more than six times the cost per residence for those who both live and work in the unincorporated County [Page 18].

  6. The unincorporated County’s role as a bedroom community, either for workers employed in neighboring counties or for workers employed in Monterey County, is very expensive and a constant net drain on County resources [Page 20].

  7. Low density residential developments generate costs that are much greater than high or even medium density developments [Page 20].

  8. Studies documenting the fiscal benefits of compact development…have addressed the issue in all parts of the country…and California [Page 21].

  9. The County should avoid significant amounts of low density development in rural, poorly served areas…. [Page 22].

  10. Agricultural land reductions potentially impact this cluster [the Agricultural Services Cluster], and could erode its dominant position within the Monterey County economy.

  11. Policies that provide more flexibility regarding use … may improve agricultural land value or farm income but in aggregate and over time weaken overall agricultural viability by increasing land values beyond the point supported by agricultural value [Pages 42-43; emphasis added].

  12. The unincorporated areas around Rancho San Juan produce higher value crops such as strawberries, which results in a much higher potential impact per acre [for conversion of these agricultural uses to urban uses] [ Page 46].

  13. The extraordinary beauty of the communities along the coast draw very high income individuals, some of which [sic] retire in the area. It is also due in part to the demand for commuter housing from workers in silicon Valley….The primary evidence of the [county’s] economic transition is the rapid escalation of housing prices throughout the County [Page 62].

  14. It is critical that the public infrastructure not degrade further as new development proceeds [Page 63; emphasis added].

  15. Residential development should not outpace job development in each area [Page 63].

The Economy, Jobs & Housing – Conclusion

To improve our local economy, and to provide good jobs and good housing, the GPU must:

In fact, this is what the Twelve Guiding Objectives also require. On or before March 26th, LandWatch plans to submit detailed recommendations on how you can change the current draft GPU to achieve these objectives. However, we think the Commission gets the idea. Your first set of recommendations to the Board of Supervisors much more closely tracked what the Economic Impact Analysis calls for. We hope you’ll “stay the course," and make just the same kind of recommendations this time around.

As the Economic Impact Analysis shows, only this kind of leadership, and these kinds of policies, will maintain and strengthen the local economy, as well as protecting and preserving our quality of life.

[Return to County Plan Update Issues and Actions]

posted 03.16.04