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Carmel Pine Cone

County protest derails strict new coastal rules &emdash; for now


Published: December 12, 2003

SAN FRANCISCO &emdash; A SET of drastic rule changes proposed for Monterey County's coast ran into a buzz saw of opposition this week, leading the staff of the California Coastal Commission to postpone consideration of the changes and promise to consult with county officials before bringing the rules to the commission for adoption later.

The proposed rules, made public the day before Thanksgiving, would:

  • prohibit four-laning Highway 1 in North Monterey County;
  • declare all native stands of Monterey pine to be "Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area," triggering special protection under state law;
  • ban private wells in the Monterey Peninsula, Carmel Valley and Carmel Highlands;
  • limit the amount of desalinated water that can be supplied to Monterey and other communities;
  • restrict building on Big Sur parcels that can be seen from public hiking trails; and,
  • "where appropriate," require that new development be evaluated for its impact on views from the ocean.

"I can't understand it and I still don't understand it," said supervisor Lou Calcagno, who drafted a letter from the board to the coastal commission objecting to the way the rules were devised, what they contain, and the "millions of dollars of liability" the rules would create for the county.

"We have to have community input," Calcagno said of the changes &emdash; in particular, the ban on widening a dangerous stretch of Highway 1 through his district. Under current county law, the highway is supposed to be widened.

Calcagno, who served as a coastal commissioner from 1992 to 1997, also criticized the commission's new rules for being hastily prepared. The ban on private wells was probably prepared by "someone not familiar with the law of groundwater rights," his letter said, while a proposed rezoning of the land around Elkhorn Slough would do "grave damage" to the community &emdash; something that could have been avoided if the commission staff had done a "single review of the history of Moss Landing."

Calcagno's letter was adopted late Tuesday after being added to the board of supervisor's agenda on an urgency basis, said supervisor Dave Potter, who also serves as a coastal commissioner. "What we want is for the whole thing to be tabled until the commission's meeting in March in Monterey, so everybody will have time to prepare," Potter said.

The next morning, the coastal commission convened at the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero in San Francisco. Staff members, apparently surprised at the vehement reaction to their 82-pages of new rules for Monterey County, gave a brief summary of the changes to the commission but put off any formal action.

"We will go to the Monterey County Board of Supervisors in January to provide complete context" for the new rules, said Dr. Charles Lester, director of the coastal commission's Santa Cruz office. "For the March meeting, we'll have a much more focused presentation."

"This is a shocking document," said Angus Jeffers, an attorney with the Monterey firm, Fenton & Keller. "If the coastal commission staff wants to continue with it, they'll have to convene a working group of residents, environmentalists, elected officials and policy regulators to keep it grounded in reality."

Big Sur resident Lisa Kleissner said the Coast Property Owners Association had met several times with coastal commission staffers on updating land use policies for the highly scenic area, but that the idea of limiting development based on views from public trails and the ocean never arose.

"We are greatly concerned that they did not share these issues with our group during the intense discussions during the last five months," she told the coastal commission. She accused the commission's staff of "inciting a divisive process."

A member of the Big Sur Land Use Advisory Committee, Barbara Layne, also said her committee hadn't been consulted about limiting development based on views from public trails and the sea.

"People are very concerned about that because it covers practically everything," Layne said. "There are public trails everywhere."

Numerous other interviews with Big Sur residents didn't elicit any comments supporting the proposal for increased protection of views from trails and the sea. (Development that can be seen from Highway 1 has been banned in most of Big Sur for more than 20 years.)

Only Gary Patton, executive director of Monterey County LandWatch, indicated any support for the plan, which he said the county should "consider very seriously."

Patton said he thought the idea of "preserving scenic views from all places where the public is specifically invited to be makes great sense." But he also said a comprehensive "viewshed analysis" would be required to determine the possible benefit of the new rules, and the possible costs.

"It will be necessary to see whether the more extensive viewshed protection would make any existing parcel 'unbuildable,' which would then set up a potential takings claim," Patton said, requiring that the property owner be compensated.

Under current law, any changes to land use rules in Monterey County would require the consent of the board of supervisors. However, when Malibu officials declined to adopt vast changes for their city demanded by the coastal commission, the commission convinced the Legislature to override city officials, putting the changes in place last year despite their objections.

No date has been set for the presentation by coastal commission staff members to Monterey County supervisors. The coastal commission's Monterey meeting, when the rules will again be considered, will take place March 17-19 at the Hyatt Regency on Old Golf Course Road, Monterey. The entire report on changes proposed by the coastal commission staff to local land use rules can be downloaded from the Internet at

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