From the Monterey County
Posted on Sun, Dec. 21, 2003
Coastal panel raises anger
From Point Piedras Blancas to Pebble Beach to the Pajaro River, the California Coastal Commission is proposing strict new regulations that would protect the county's shores but poke some property owners.
The commission's proposal has enraged Monterey County supervisors, who say the state agency is trying to micromanage local planning without consulting residents. But the commission's top local chief insists that the new regulations are part of a routine review and will not be enacted without ample opportunity for local input.
The rules would prohibit widening Highway 1 between Castroville and Salinas Road. They seek to limit the size of any new water project, including a desalination plant, to limit growth and would ban digging new private wells on the Peninsula and in northern Monterey County. They would also offer new protections to Monterey Pine trees and strengthen safeguards for sand dunes, making it even more difficult to develop in the Del Monte Forest.
But restrictions aren't all the plan offers. The commission is also seeking to improve access to the county's rugged coast, recommending that public access to the coast be improved in Pebble Beach, Carmel, Moss Landing and Pajaro. The plans envision hikers and bikers traversing the coast uninterrupted on a network of trials and paths.
The proposal is the product of a two-year commission review of the county's coastal regulations, being done in conjunction with the county's general plan revision. The commission, which unveiled its first draft of the new rules in late November, will formally consider the plan in March, when it holds its meeting in Monterey.
County officials aren't waiting until the commission's presentation to voice discontent with the rules. They're taking the fight to the commission. Last week the Monterey County Board of Supervisors condemned the proposal as too restrictive, calling it unconstitutional. The regulations would expose the county to millions of dollars in liability for taking away residents' property rights without offering any appreciable environmental benefit, supervisors wrote in a letter sent to the commission.
Supervisor Lou Calcagno said the commission's development of rules set a bad precedent. Calcagno said local government should be controlling local land use.
"We'd be in a dangerous situation if all of our decisions were made at a state level," he said.
Supervisor Dave Potter, who sits on the powerful state commission as well as the Board of Supervisors, said the state agency's staff should not have jumped ahead of the county, especially while the county is rewriting its general plan, its definitive blueprint for future development inland and on the coast.
"The county felt it was inappropriate to even present it yet," said Potter. "If the Coastal Commission staff were to make their points to the commission without the county being able to comment, it would bias the commission."
But the commission is not doing anything out of the ordinary, said Charles Lester, deputy director. The commission regularly reviews local coastal regulations. It has been at least 15 years since Monterey County's rules were written, and the county has changed, and grown, significantly, Lester said.
"It's timely to do a review in Monterey County," he said. "It's pretty common for circumstances to change over time."
Gary Patton, executive director of LandWatch, a local environmental organization, urged residents to be open-minded to the suggestions. He emphasized that the commission's regulations are not a finished work, and that they will probably evolve over time when others offer their opinions to the commission.
"The initial reaction that many people will have is resistance," he said.
But he said that protecting the coast should be important to all Monterey County residents.
"Let's try to see whether we can try to make this thing work," he said. "We would hope that the county would take these suggestions quite seriously."
If adopted, the plans would have its largest effect on coastal areas like Moss Landing, North County, Big Sur and Pebble Beach.
The proosal strengthens protections along the rugged Big Sur coast, putting emphasis on protecting scenic views along Highway 1 and from the ocean.
"The ocean has never been considered a public viewing site before," Potter said. "That's kind of a stretch."
In Pebble Beach, the plan could have serious consequences for small- and large-scale development. It would change the way the commission protects the Monterey Pine, a tree that grows in only three areas in California.
Currently, development rules protect only trees that are deemed "significant," older, larger trees also referred to as heritage trees. But the plans would shift the emphasis from single trees to entire stands of the pine: protecting the forests, not the trees.
Lester said that research on the trees, which are threatened by development and by pitch canker disease, has indicated that they need large areas of connected forest to survive. The proposal seeks to redefine large areas of the Del Monte Forest as open space and directs the county to study the forest and develop a comprehensive management plan.
"It really is a highly sensitive habitat," said Lester.
But Potter, who represents Pebble Beach on the Board of Supervisors, said that the restrictions could be too strict, although he said he supports saving large trees.
"I don't think that a six-inch pine bears the same weight as a 24-inch pine," he said. "We have to realize that you could be overly restrictive."
Lester said the protection of the pines could restrict some of the development planned inside Pebble Beach, including plans to develop a new golf course in the area.
"That comes right up against some of the development proposals that would convert large areas of pine forest," he said. "There will be an issue there."
The plan also seeks to strengthen the protection of sand dune habitats, asking the county to clearly define review processes for renovating, expanding or replacing existing buildings on the dunes.
North of the Peninsula, the proposal would prohibit the county from widening Highway 1 from two to four lanes, although it allows some safety improvements, as long as they do not alter the rural character of the road.
Lester said the proposal is in line with state laws seeking to keep the status quo on the scenic highway. But Calcagno, whose district contains that stretch of road, said the commission is not the right body to make that kind of decision.
"That's an issue that should be a community issue," he said. "To make that kind of decision, you'd have to get more people involved. That's the kind of thing that bothers me."
The plan also seeks to limit industrial development in Moss Landing to places that are served by rail. It also states that North County should remain agricultural, and that development should be discouraged there.
The proposal's regulation of water resources would add another layer of growth control across the county. They would tie development permits to the availability of water and possibly restrict the capacity of seawater desalination plants in order to keep growth in check.
Desalination plants, the regulations say, should provide only enough water to develop what the Coastal Commission deems appropriate. They should not produce extra water, which could encourage growth in natural or agricultural areas.
Currently, two desalination proposals are floating around Monterey County, the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District's proposal to build a desalination plant off the dunes in Sand City and the California American Water Co.'s plan to build a plant at Moss Landing. County officials and others are urging that the Moss Landing plant provide water for the entire region, which could encourage growth in North County.
Both proposals would probably be subject to Coastal Commission approval.
Besides regulating large projects, the commission also wants a ban on new private wells in North County and in areas served by Cal-Am. It would ban only new wells, not existing ones. The ban, Lester said, would protect the area's groundwater reserves from seawater intrusion. Lester also said the commission was worried that new wells could put stress on the Carmel River if the wells failed and the development became dependent on the Cal-Am system. Cal-Am's system depends on pumping the river, which is home to threatened red-legged frogs and steelhead trout.
While the commission wants to protect the coast, it wants to make sure people have the means to enjoy it by increasing the number of places that people may access the ocean.
Plans recommend the county establish new access points in North County at the end of Bluff Road and at Pajaro River Trail, in Moss Landing at the Moss Landing RV Park and Playground and the Moss Landing Marine Laboratory and at Royal Oaks and Manzanita county parks.
The plan also calls for improvements -- better parking and signs -- in Pebble Beach at Stillwater Cove and at the Pebble Beach Lodge.
Patton praised the push for more access, but acknowledged that allowing coastal access through private property is sometimes difficult.
Potter gave the proposal a mixed blessing.
"I'm a proponent of coastal access," he said. "You can't force the public to provide access, but you should."
The commission is also calling for work on a trail connecting coastal property across Monterey County. It wants the county to provide a continuous coastal bike path from Pacific Grove to Carmel through the Del Monte Forest.
Potter and Patton said the trail was a good idea.
The proposals will be refined over the coming months. Commission officials will present them to the supervisors in January and are scheduled to discuss them at the commission's March meeting. Then, it will be up to the county to work the suggestions into the general plan.
"It looks to me like this one's going to be really controversial," said Potter.
But Lester said the two entities can work together.
"I think a lot of things that we're concerned about, the county's also concerned about," said Lester. "There's common ground here."
Jonathan Segal can be reached at 646-4345.