From the Monterey County Herald
Serving Monterey County and the Salinas Valley

January 10, 2007

General plan foes out in force

Slow-growth advocates said Tuesday they will seek a June ballot measure to stop Monterey County's new general plan in its tracks.
They announced their 30-day, signature-gathering campaign in the lobby of the county government center in Salinas, just outside the supervisors' chambers as a crowd gathered for supervisor swearing-in ceremonies.

"Here we go again," said Julie Engell, chairwoman of the Rancho San Juan Opposition Coalition, a group that has pushed two earlier referendums against development in the area north of Salinas.

By gathering 9,000 county voter signatures, the slow-growthers plan to qualify a ballot referendum that would prevent the controversial general plan approved by the Board of Supervisors last week from taking effect.

Opponents of the county's new general plan say it is a developer-friendly recipe for urban sprawl. Engell said the document, which took the county more than seven years and $6 million to complete, is "constructed out of loopholes."

If it takes effect, Engell said it would enable Rancho San Juan and other controversial developments to gain final approval. That would happen under the supervisors' promise last week to put the new general plan on the June ballot, subject to voter repeal, she said.

Engell said the referendum also is needed because the supervisors could change their minds about putting the general plan before voters.

"This board and county development interests are scared to death to let the voters decide," she said.

Long-time Latino rights activist Bill Melendez and labor union leader Wren Bradley also voiced support for the referendum against the new general plan.

"I urge voters to sign the referendum so we all get the opportunity to vote before (the general plan) becomes law," Melendez said. The new general plan would saddle county residents with water, traffic, housing and school problems for a generation, he said.

Bradley said the new county general plan wouldn't deliver affordable housing for working people and would drain county dollars for health care and social services to provide basic services to far-flung developments.

"Don't be fooled by everything you hear by the special-interest groups backing (the general plan)," she said.

Supporters of the new plan condemned the slow-growthers' referendum campaign as adding another layer of confusion to the long-running growth debate. They said it is being fueled by paid signature-gatherers.

Jay Brown, a county planning commissioner and founder of the pro-growth group Plan for the People, said the referendum campaign is "ill-advised." Slow-growthers, he said, received assurances from supervisors that both the general plan and their proposed general plan initiative would go on the ballot.

"They got exactly what they wanted, and they are still not satisfied," Brown said. "They are just hateful."

Tom Carvey, executive director of Common Ground Monterey County and a supporter of the new county general plan, said: "They seem to always want their way. They are not after clear choices. They are after political control."

Bob Perkins, executive director of the Monterey County Farm Bureau and a proponent of the new county general plan, said the referendum campaign is designed "to deny the citizens of this county the opportunity to experience the plan."

Engell countered: "We haven't got what we wanted at all. They would like to spin it that way."

Melendez charged that money from development interests is the "life blood" of county politics to the detriment of most county residents. He said the media "should follow the money."

Engell refused to answer questions about the budget for the referendum campaign or the number of paid signature-gatherers involved.

"I'm not going to reveal any information in a strategy that could be used against us," she said. "We have a volunteer effort supported by professional help."

Referendum workers began gathering signatures at stores and other locations around the county Saturday. They have a Feb. 2 deadline to submit their petitions to county elections officials.

Engell predicted it would be easy to get enough signatures to qualify the referendum.

Asked how the campaign would avoid challenges under the Voting Rights Act about bilingual materials — the issue that has stymied still-pending ballot measures over Rancho San Juan and the general plan initiative — supporters said they sought Spanish copies of the new general plan and approval documents. But the county couldn't supply them with the documents in Spanish, they said.

Chris Fitz, executive director of LandWatch Monterey County, said if the county can provide Spanish-language documents, the referendum campaign will use them. He said he doesn't believe the Voting Rights issue will delay the proposed referendum, as it has the other two land-use ballot measures still tied up in federal court.

Larry Parsons can be reached at 646-4379 or lparsons@