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Old Baldy, Canada | photo by Cameron Schaus

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   Conservation Issues of the Ventana Chapter | chapter wide

Measure A stops sprawl and builds affordable housing

Vote YES on Measure A
Vote NO on Measure C
Monterey hills

Where scientists and conservationists see opportunity to protect a large and critical piece of one of the rarest ecoregions on earth, development interests see wide-open opportunity for profit.

Photo by Don Nielsen

Measure A was identified by Monterey County’s own Environmental Impact Report as the Environmentally Superior Alternative.

by Julie Engell
Monterey County can go the way of Los Angeles County or we can adopt land use policies that protect our environment by developing within existing communities to eliminate sprawl. Voters will decide on June 5.

Measure C (below), favored by developers and the Supervisors, would result in sprawl, traffic gridlock, water scarcity, and loss of endangered species.

Measure A, placed on the ballot by over 16,000 voters’ signatures, institutes policies for sound land use.

Vote for Measure A on June 5
Measure A would limit rural subdivision. Residential subdivisions and commercial and industrial subdivisions would not be allowed outside of five existing rural communities. However, to protect the economic viability of agriculture, subdivision of farmland would be allowed as long as all subdivided parcels remained in permanent agricultural use. Furthermore, any use currently allowed on agricultural land, including housing for owner, caretaker and farm workers, would continue to be allowed. Development on existing lots of record would continue. This would include existing land zoned for residential, commercial and industrial uses.

Measure A would focus rural growth into five existing rural communities. Communities should grow where existing roads, water, and sewer systems can be economically expanded and where the communities would benefit economically from growth and infrastructure investment. The five Community Areas in Measure A are Pajaro, Boronda, Fort Ord, Castroville and Chualar.

Measure A would not hamper growth or expansion of Monterey County’s incorporated towns and cities. Expansion through annexation could still occur.

By clearly defining where growth will occur and where growth will not occur, Measure A avoids most direct and indirect impacts to important habitat areas.

Measure A would require sustainable water supplies and adequate roads before or concurrent with new development. This would put an end to the current practice of development without adequate water or road improvements.

Measure A would increase the percentage of affordable housing that must be built with new development from 20% to 30%. Furthermore, the housing would have to remain permanently affordable for average and below-average wage earners. Local workers would be first in line for this housing. By increasing the percentage of housing built for families that actually work and live in Monterey County, by keeping it permanently affordable for local working families, the unmet need for affordable housing would narrow over time.

Finally, Measure A would require a county-wide vote for any change to these basic tenets. More than seven years of participation in the General Plan process has taught the public that it wants a direct say in major development in Monterey County. Most land use decisions would still be up to elected Supervisors, but the initiative’s fundamental policies would not change until the community decided they should change.

The Community General Plan Initiative (Measure A) avoids most of the significant adverse environmental impacts associated with the 2006 General Plan recently adopted by the majority of Supervisors. In fact, Measure A was identified by Monterey County’s own Environmental Impact Report as the Environmentally Superior Alternative. In the environmental analysis, the initiative was compared to the 2006 General Plan (GPU4), the current 1982 General Plan and GPU3. Of the four alternatives, the Community General Plan Initiative was the best alternative because it avoided most of the impacts caused by the other plans and significantly lessened the rest. The Supervisors’ 2006 General Plan (Measure C) was the most damaging alternative.

Please help us win at the polls on June 5. Volunteer for the campaign at


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Hookers Primrose

Hookers Primrose - Contributed photo

The problems with the Supervisors’ Plan (Measure C)

Click for map

Anyone who has hiked a trail in Monterey County, or driven any one of its many scenic roads, knows the soul-satisfying abundance of this place. There’s a scientific reason: Monterey County is one of the ecologically richest areas along California’s Central Coast. It is part of a multi-county region recognized worldwide for its ecological significance. Our ecoregion is considered a Mediterranean habitat, which is limited to five regions worldwide. Mediterranean habitats cover only 2% of the earth’s surface but support 20% of its plant diversity.

The Central Coast is identified as a biodiversity hotspot by several conservation organizations including the World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International, and The Nature Conservancy. A “biodiversity hotspot” is a region that supports a high number of imperiled species, many of which occur nowhere else in the world.

Monterey County is comprised of every type of California ecosystem except the alpine ecosystem. Critical expanses of its territory remain undeveloped and connected to wilderness areas by wildlife corridors. But that has been changing rapidly. Where scientists and conservationists see opportunity to protect a large and critical piece of one of the rarest ecoregions on earth, development interests see wide-open opportunity for profit.

Monterey County has undergone significant land use changes in the past couple of decades. Its ranches, farms and oak woodlands are being converted rapidly to vineyards and rural subdivisions. From 1991 to 2001, vineyard acreage almost doubled from 21,000 acres to 38,000 acres. Suburban subdivisions continue to expand across prime farmland, and rural subdivisions creep up steep slopes.

Expansion of services to support this urbanization creates problems of its own. Transportation corridors convert farmland, create incompatible uses, fragment habitat and provide thoroughfares for the spread of invasive, non-native species. Development diverts surface water; overdevelopment over-drafts groundwater. Dams, levees, waste-water treatment systems, and fire management systems all take their toll on habitat.

Despite the breakneck expansion of vineyards in Monterey County, Monterey County Vintners and Growers deemed the County’s level of environmental review “onerous” and unnecessarily time-consuming. They lobbied successfully for a Winery Corridor Plan to be included in the County’s 2006 General Plan (GPU4/Measure C). Their plan, which received only cursory environmental review under the EIR, would allow wineries and many “visitor-serving uses” to be approved in the future with nothing more than an administrative permit. This diminished level of environmental review was extended exclusively to the wine industry. Objectors were accused of being “anti-business.”

According to California’s Department of Finance, by 2050, Monterey County’s population is expected to expand by 250,000 people, a 62% increase. Population growth is considered by many experts to be the single greatest threat to California’s quality of life, including the health of its natural areas.

Unfortunately, GPU4 calls for rural growth that is twice the growth projected by the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments, our regional planning agency. This rural growth, taken together with the growth planned in the County’s cities, means we will nearly reach Monterey County’s 2050 population benchmark by the year 2026. Such aggressive growth will cut in half our time to protect this critical piece of the Central Coast Ecoregion.

Instead of focusing infrastructure investment and growth in already urbanized rural communities, GPU4 scatters it throughout Monterey County in 7 Community Areas, 9 Rural Centers, 16 Special Treatment Areas, 8 Study Areas and 16 Property Owner Requests (zoning changes specially granted to 16 property owners).

GPU4 calls for twice as much housing as necessary and will cost us 4900 acres of productive crop land. It also contains more than 500 million square feet of undeveloped office, retail and industrial land—enough to accomodate 2500 Walmarts.

Additional problems for habitat conservation in GPU4 / Measure C:
GPU4 relaxes current prohibitions against converting steep slopes to cultivation. Instead it proposes to develop a permitting system that would allow conversion of slopes of any steepness. In Monterey County, 505,000 acres of private land are on slopes greater than 25%. Direct impacts to wildlife are potentially huge. Indirect impacts, such as degradation of water quality caused by erosion and sedimentation, could be worse. Neither was adequately analyzed by GPU4’s Environmental Impact Report.

GPU4 eliminates the existing over-arching tree protection ordinance and replaces it with a policy that directs each county planning area to develop its own. No timeframe or criteria are provided. There is no mandatory collaboration among planning areas to protect wildlife corridors that extend beyond planning area boundaries.

GPU4 includes a greatly expanded list of so-called “routine and on-going” agricultural practices, many of which have nothing to do with agriculture and everything to do with industrial development. Activities defined as “routine” or “on-going agriculture” would be allowed without a permit.

GPU4 focuses its very limited protection policies on specific threatened and endangered species but does not address or generally protect the habitats upon which these species depend. Furthermore, GPU4 shifts responsibility for environmental review of impacts to special status species to the state and federal agencies that protect them. The County justifies this as a cost-saving measure, but the fact is that environmental analysis will be diminished by shifting responsibility to non-local, under-staffed and under-funded state and federal agencies. Development attorneys have lobbied relentlessly for this change.

GPU4 policies are written using unenforceable language. Actions are “encouraged,” “discouraged,” “strongly encouraged,” “promoted,” and “considered.” Most actions are to be accomplished “to the extent feasible.”

Since the beginning of the General Plan update process in 1999, the Ventana Chapter of the Sierra Club has advocated policies that would improve habitat protections contained in the 1982 General Plan. GPU4 is open season on everything Sierra Club values.

Vote yes on Measure A.
Vote no on Measure C.

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