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The LandWatch Approach To the General Plan Update

May 29, 2001

Chair and Members
Monterey County Planning Commission
County Courthouse
120 Church Street
Salinas, CA 93901 [Sent By FAX: 831-755-5487]

RE: General Plan Update – Meeting of May 30, 2001, Item #2

Dear Members of the Planning Commission:

This letter is to comment on the report presented to you for your May 30, 2001 meeting, and to suggest several changes to the recommendations contained in the report.

Comments:

  1. The "Summary" section of the report begins by stating that on April 17, 2001, "the Board reaffirmed its commitment to the 1979 Growth Management Policy as the general guide for preparing the General Plan Update (emphasis added)." This is not really an accurate statement. On April 17, 2001, the Board adopted the following direction: "Reaffirm the 1979 County Growth Management Policy for use in preparation of the General Plan Update (emphasis added)."

    This difference in language is significant. The two statements suggest quite different approaches. As the Planning Commission may remember, LandWatch and many others specifically objected to the idea that the Monterey County 21st Century General Plan should be "based on" or "guided by" a set of policies first adopted over twenty years ago. While LandWatch certainly agrees that County staff can appropriately "use" the 1979 policy in preparing the new General Plan, we hope that the Planning Commission will explicitly advise the Board that the County should not be "guided by" the outmoded policies of 1979 as it prepares a plan for the next twenty years.

    Attached to this letter is our critique of the 1979 Growth Management Policy. We hope you will agree that the 1979 Growth Management Policy does not provide a solid foundation for the kind of "world class" General Plan that the Board has stated it wants to achieve.

  2. Attachment A contains a number of proposed "General Plan Objectives." Proposed objective #2 states that the county should attempt to provide an "adequate land supply…to meet projected population needs." We urge the Planning Commission to recommend different language. One much better formulation is contained at the end of this letter.

    If the County decides that its objective is to "meet projected population needs," as set by the State Department of Finance and transmitted to the County through AMBAG, which is what this "objective" suggests, it will be turning over its future to bureaucrats in Sacramento who have no concern whatsoever for the natural resource or community impacts that their numerical projections would have in Monterey County. Please remember that Monterey County and other jurisdictions have been "fighting" the population projections received this past year—because they completely overlooked water resource and fiscal constraints. Adopting the "objective" suggested in the staff report would be to capitulate to the state’s process.

    LandWatch strongly believes that the "objective" of the Monterey County General Plan should not be to accommodate growth pressures from outside the county (which is what in large part is fueling current population growth projections). Instead, the objective of the County’s General Plan should be to state what this County wants, in terms of economic development, housing opportunity, community character, and natural resource protection. By definition, the County General Plan should be "of, by, and for" the people of Monterey County—and it should never be the "objective" of the plan to "accommodate" population "projections" made by Sacramento bureaucrats. Again, our suggested wording is found in the recommendations section at the end of this letter.

  3. LandWatch believes that the idea of "Areas of Development Concentration" (which means new development in unincorporated portions of the county) should be eliminated from the new General Plan. Therefore, we propose some different wording for proposed General Plan Objective #3, as indicated in the recommendations section at the end of this letter.

  4. LandWatch believes that proposed General Plan Objective #4 fails adequately to address the most serious community problem now confronting Monterey County, namely the need to ensure that future growth and development actually provides housing for local, working families with average and below average incomes. We suggest a stronger statement of the County’s affordable housing objectives, as indicated in the recommendations section at the end of this letter.

  5. Attachment B proposes a "Procedure for Consideration of General Plan and Zoning Amendments." While the idea of separating proposed General Plan amendments from project proposals is an idea that LandWatch strongly supports, the specific formulation contained in Attachment B should be reworked. As written, Attachment B suggests that General Plan Amendments will be "driven" by individual property owner requests for changes in land use designations. This perpetuates a current problem with land use planning in Monterey County. Instead of the General Plan providing guidance to individual landowners, based on a community decision on what makes the most sense for the community as a whole (and this is what a General Plan should be), planning tends to be a series of decisions on individually suggested land use proposals. Often, these make individual sense (for the property owner), but result in the kind of sprawling development that it should be the objective of this General Plan to eliminate. LandWatch suggests alternative language, as attached to this letter.

    LandWatch would also like to note that to the extent that individual proposals for changes to General Plan land use designations are specifically considered as part of the current General Plan Update process, the Environmental Review that must be undertaken for the General Plan Update will have fully to describe and evaluate the impacts that might occur if the requested changes are made. To take the most obvious example, if the County of Monterey decides to consider the proposed redesignation of the Marks Ranch property from its current public facilities designation, to accommodate the request received from the Las Palmas developers who apparently want to convert it into a new subdivision, the General Plan EIR must fully analyze all the potential impacts from such a housing development on the Marks Ranch. A similar detailed environmental review would need to be undertaken for each landowner-generated request for a General Plan change. We believe that the County is not proposing to charge the landowners anything for this review (though they would be charged for the EIR processing if it were carried out separately). This represents a major public subsidy for the proposed developments.

Recommendations:
LandWatch Monterey County urges the Planning Commission to make the following recommendations to the Board of Supervisors:

  1. That the Board of Supervisors direct the County Planning Department to use the 1979 Growth Management Policy as the current policy in force in Monterey County, and to require that all projects and proposals currently in the permit process be evaluated according to the principles contained in the 1979 Growth Management Policy.

  2. That the Board of Supervisors direct the General Plan Update staff to utilize the "Proposed General Plan Objectives" (and not the twenty year old 1979 Growth Management Policy) as the basis upon which to develop a proposed General Plan Update. We naturally hope that the Planning Commission will incorporate into the

    "Proposed General Plan Objectives" the specific suggestions for language changes noted below.

  3. That the Board of Supervisors use the following language for proposed objective #2, instead of the language found in the report submitted to the Commission:

    "Ensure that there is a supply of land that can meet the residential, commercial, and industrial development needs of Monterey County for the next twenty years, taking into account lands located within the cities."

  4. That the Board of Supervisors use the following language for proposed objective #3, instead of the language found in the report submitted to the Commission:

    "Preserve a distinction between urban and rural areas by channeling new growth to areas already committed to an urban level of development (e.g. cities and densely developed unincorporated communities), and by reserving rural areas for resource-based industries (i.e. farming, livestock grazing, mining), natural resource protection, and open space recreation uses."

  5. That the Board of Supervisors use the following language for proposed objective #4, instead of the language found in the report submitted to the Commission:

    "Require that new commercial and residential development demonstrably provide actual new residential housing for working families in Monterey County, and specifically for families with average or below average incomes, and strive to achieve a job and housing balance in all areas."

  6. That the Board of Supervisors use the language for the Proposed Procedure for Consideration of General Plan and Zoning Amendments that is attached to this letter, instead of the language found in Attachment B to the report submitted to the Commission.

Thank you for taking our comments into consideration.

cc: General Plan Update Staff
Board of Supervisors
LandWatch Board of Directors


LandWatch Monterey County Critique
MONTEREY COUNTY
GROWTH MANAGEMENT POLICY
(1)

LandWatch comments are "boxed," and the text commented on is underlined.

The Board of Supervisors finds and declares that managed growth and orderly development are essential to the proper utilization of land in Monterey County. Proper utilization of the land will contribute directly to the social, cultural, environmental, fiscal, and economic well-being of the County.

1. Establishment of Growth Areas
Managed growth must be incorporated into the General Plan of the County. In so doing, the General Plan must be written to include appropriate growth areas within the County. These areas must recognize the diversity among the lands of the County and provide for the planning of each area in a way that utilizes its unique characteristics.

LandWatch Comment:
In fact, the vast majority of new growth should be directed into the existing cities. If "growth areas" means areas where more subdivisions will be allowed in the unincorporated areas (and that is what we believe that this language is intended to mean—and how it has been used since 1979), then LandWatch does not believe that such additional subdivision of unincorporated areas should continue for the next twenty years. Before planning for more subdivisions in the unincorporated areas, the county should first analyze how much new construction can occur on existing lots of record. The amount is mammoth! Future "development" in rural areas both can and will continue without any additional subdivisions in rural, unincorporated areas, because of the many already-existing lots. A policy of allowing more subdivisions in the unincorporated area during the next twenty years should not be the "guide" for future development in Monterey County.

 

The policies for each planning area to be defined within the General Plan must countenance differences between the planning areas in terms of natural resources, physical and environmental attributes, economic development, and sociocultural development. Furthermore, growth areas shall be designated only where there is provision for an adequate level of services and facilities such as water, sewer, fire protection, and drainage, and be coordinated with school authorities.

2. Development of Cities and Areas Around Cities
Cities have been created in Monterey County to provide urban areas with local governmental services essential to sound urban development such as sewers, storm drains, water, police protection, fire protection, neighborhood parks, schools, and community recreation programs. The ability of cities to cope with the social, economic, land use, and political problems created by urbanization is dependent in large part on their ability to service and control urban development in their urban service areas.

Inhabitants residing in an urban service area of a city have a community of interest with that city and should be part of that city so that they may receive necessary city services as well as participate in, and contribute to, the resolution of social, political, land use, and economic issues of their urban community. Except as noted below, urban development should be discouraged in areas lying outside the boundaries of urban service areas in order to discourage premature and unnecessary conversion of open space outside the urban service areas.

New areas of development concentration shall, where appropriate, be encouraged if they can be shown to better achieve other aspects of growth management such as the preservation of prime agricultural lands or the protection of other natural resources. They shall provide urban services to the residences such as provision of water, sewage treatment, roads, commercial facilities, schools, and fire protection. Developments of this type should be proposed as specific plan amendments to the General Plan.

LandWatch Comment:
The idea that the County General Plan should provide for "new areas of development concentration" is an idea whose time has come and gone. This is essentially a proposal for more rural subdivisions (on a large scale) in the unincorporated parts of the county. In fact, new development should go into existing areas of development concentration—i.e., the cities and unincorporated areas already committed to urban level development, including the former Fort Ord. That is, incidentally, what other parts of the 1979 policy require.

3. Establishment of New Areas of Development Concentration (2)
The following criteria shall be used for the purposes of identifying any new "areas of development concentration" as that term is used in the Monterey County Growth Management Policy.

A) The area is not contiguous with existing urban concentrations, but is in reasonably close proximity to an existing city or other employment center and contains existing semi-rural development.

B) The area has available, or provision will be made for, appropriate levels of public services to serve the higher intensity land uses proposed for areas of development concentration.

C) The parcel sizes and ownerships of the undeveloped land within the area lend themselves to orderly higher intensity development rather than piecemeal or sprawl development. Such higher intensity development may be rural, suburban or urban in character, depending upon the natural resources, physical and environmental attributes, economic development, and sociocultural development of the particular area.

D) A new area shall not under any circumstances be located where it may adversely impact significant prime or productive agricultural lands.

E) Protection and conservation of the natural resources of the overall planning area, especially the scenic quality of rural areas and the preservation of prime agricultural land, will be enhanced by concentrating development within the designated area.

LandWatch Comment:
This section of the 1979 Growth Management Policy outlines a proposal for the development of large-scale rural subdivisions. LandWatch believes that the County should move towards a set of policies that will direct new growth into existing areas of development (mostly in the cities), instead of going into places that are specifically "not contiguous with existing urban concentrations." To suggest that this 1979 policy should "guide" the 21st Century General Plan (along with other principles that completely contradict this idea) is to perpetuate rural and suburban sprawl, and to build a fundamental inconsistency into the foundation of the General Plan.

Open space should be retained wherever advisable to maintain the rural quality of life in the County. Clustering of development is to be encouraged. Development should be minimized on visually sensitive slopes. The density of development outside the urban service areas of urban concentrations should be low.

Minor subdivision will be discouraged, especially outside urban service areas. Minor subdivision approval will normally result in the property being rezoned to prevent further lot divisions.

Environmental research should be conducted on large segments of the County, coincidental with the planning areas or designated growth areas or sub-areas where possible. Developers will participate financially in this research through a prorata cost sharing arrangement at such time as their projects are filed.

It will be a goal for Monterey County to develop a proportionate share of housing affordable by low and moderate income families.

A new system of evaluation of applications shall be established. Each application should be evaluated according to its strengths and weaknesses in accordance with the General Plan and its policies and elements, except master plans adopted subsequent to this policy for planning areas shall be taken into consideration. Evaluation systems shall be the subject of public hearing before the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors prior to their adoption. The criteria of evaluation shall be written and made available to the public. Each applicant shall be given a numerical score based upon an analysis of the evaluation criteria. Applications not found to meet minimum evaluation criteria shall not be given further consideration.

Agriculture continues to be the basis of the economy of the County. Agricultural lands in Monterey are some of the world’s finest. Productive agricultural lands are our greatest resource and must be preserved. Protection of this land can be provided through the use of such devices as zoning, scenic easements, and Williamson Act contracts. Furthermore, development of lands adjoining productive agriculture lands must be nonpolluting and not otherwise detrimental to the agricultural uses. The improvement of roads and other facilities serving areas of productive agricultural lands should be delimited consistent with the agricultural uses.

LandWatch Comment:
LandWatch agrees that "productive agricultural lands…must be preserved." However, LandWatch believes that stronger policies than those enumerated will be needed to achieve that goal. In the next twenty years, Monterey County will experience much more dramatic growth pressure than it has over the last twenty years. The explosive development of the Silicon Valley—and growth in northern San Luis Obispo County—are putting Monterey County’s productive agricultural lands at great risk.

4. Priorities for Growth
Priority for growth will be given first to infilling within existing urban areas. The next priority will be for development on lands adjacent to existing and densely settled urban areas where the necessary services and facilities are available, except where this impacts prime and productive agricultural lands. Growth areas adjoining urban areas shall be within the spheres of influence of the cities and coincide with the area to which the cities are providing services or in areas immediately surrounding high density concentrations with the County such as the Carmel Valley Village and Castroville, except as in paragraph #3.

LandWatch Comment:
This set of priorities is basically inconsistent with the concept of "new areas of development concentration." LandWatch suggests that the inconsistency be resolved by eliminating the "new areas of development concentration" concept, as noted in our earlier comments.

5. Low and Moderate Income Housing (3)
A managed growth program must consider, and provide for, the housing needs of all economic segments of the community. Toward this goal, it is the County’s intent to increase residential densities in designated growth areas over those indicated as land use designations of the County General Plan. Residential densities may be increased only where such increase is determined to provide for low and moderate income housing needs and is in accord with environmental, health, and safety provisions, and where such increase in density is not unduly excessive and does not violate policies of the elements of the General Plan.

LandWatch Comment:
While LandWatch supports the low and moderate income housing statements contained in this policy. They are clearly insufficient to guide the County’s affordable housing efforts for the next twenty years. LandWatch would support a much stronger statement of the County’s commitment to the actual production of affordable housing. For instance: "Require that new commercial and residential development demonstrably provide actual new residential housing for working families in Monterey County, and specifically for families with average or below average incomes, and strive to achieve a job and housing balance in all areas."

LandWatch Suggestion
Proposed Procedure for Consideration of General Plan and Zoning Amendments

  1. Because state housing law requires the periodic review and revision of the General Plan Housing Element on a five-year schedule, and because the General Plan must be, by law, an internally consistent document, the Board of Supervisors will undertake a comprehensive review of the Monterey County General Plan each five years, on a schedule coordinated with the required review and revision of the General Plan Housing Element. The Board of Supervisors may make appropriate revisions to the General Plan at the time of each such periodic review, and will consider proposed changes to the General Plan requested by individual property owners in connection with each five-year review of the General Plan.

  2. Once each year, during the month of September, the Board of Supervisors will place an advertisement in all major newspapers in Monterey County, informing persons who wish to request a change in the General Plan to submit a letter of interest to the County of Monterey by January 1 of the year in which the next five-year review of the General Plan will be carried out.

  3. Members of the public and property owners may request the Board of Supervisors to modify the General Plan by filing a letter of interest by January 1 of the year in which the next five-year review of the General Plan will be carried out. When such a letter of interest is received, County staff will enter the request into the Geographic Information System database, and all such requests for General Plan changes will be considered during the next five-year review of the General Plan.

  4. At the start of the process for the five-year review of the General Plan, County staff will prepare an initial study of each request submitted. If a property owner has requested a change in a land use designation for land in which the property owner has an interest, and the initial study indicates that the requested change might have an impact on the environment, and that an Environmental Impact Report analysis will be required, County staff will so inform the property owner, and the property owner must make arrangements to pay for the required environmental analysis.

  5. During each five-year review of the General Plan, all requests for General Plan changes proposed for each planning area will be presented for consideration to the applicable Land Use Advisory Committee, and the comments of the Land Use Advisory Committee will be presented to the Planning Commission. The recommendations of the Planning Commission will be presented to the Board of Supervisors.

(1) Adopted by Board of Supervisors Resolution #79-478 dated October 9, 1979.

(2) Added by Board of Supervisors Resolution No. 81-546, November 3, 1981.

(3) Added by Board of Supervisors Resolution No. 80-601, November 25, 1980.