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The problems with the Supervisors’ Plan (Measure C)
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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.