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May 30-June 6, 2007

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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

General Pain Part 2: The Vote Looms

If you can't have a good fight in the morning, the whole day's a waste, Barry Goldwater once said, telling a reporter how he loved daily political battle. And by Goldwater's standard, the voters of Monterey County are certainly not wasting a single day.

Nūz first reported on the county's vociferous General Plan battle in the March 15 issue ("General Pain," March 15).

Let's briefly review: Monterey County supes, updating a creaky old 1982 General Plan, dallied at it so long that seven years and $7 million into that 1998 project, seething parties (Landwatch, Citizens for Sensible Growth, et al.) balked, walked and wrote their own, calling it "A Citizens' Initiative." The initiative was written in English--the county's minority language. Voting rights lawsuits followed and were eventually resolved. Supes put both the citizens' plan and their own --known as GP4, since their dallying destroyed previous versions GP1, 2 and 3 --on the ballot for June 5. Common Ground and Plan for the People, both pro-supe and pro-GP4 groups, formed to fight the balkers. Dusk descended with both sides on the battlefield. Fade to credits.

But there's so much more to tell we just had to do a sequel--this time with a cast of thousands, majestic accusations, and a budget beyond belief.

So: as our second epic begins, the various battling parties have temporarily sheathed their swords, seized both plans, and performed 'analyses.'

The League of Women voters assembled an analysis which county Planning Commissioner Nancy Isakson promptly labeled "clearly wrong." The Monterey Herald did an analysis of growth boundaries, which the League immediately declared "incorrect." Common Ground did an analysis, and Chris Fitz of Landwatch swiftly dismissed it as a product of the group's "funding sources," especially Realtors. And the California Nurses' Association is rumored to be doing a particularly nurturing analysis right now.

To get just a taste of these analyses, let's sample the Citizens' Initiative people (hereinafter, for simplicity, Landwatch) and their analysis of housing growth under the supes' GP4.

What they write: "HERE'S WHAT IS COMING OUR WAY--18,200 houses that have been approved. ... 42,600 other houses that are in the general planning process . ... Enough houses to create a new city the size of Salinas--WE DON'T NEED 11,400 MORE UNITS THAT GP4 WOULD ALLOW!"

In the finer print, below the capitalized claims, Landwatch admits that these are not, in fact, "houses," but "dwelling units." Which, of course, includes studio apartments, SROs, even single rehab facility beds. A far cry, in terms of land use, sprawl and gobbled open space, from the 11,400 single family lots (at 5,000 square feet each) its screaming headlines loudly lament.

And Landwatch does not address--in any print, fine or gross, just how the we writing the analysis determined what county residents do or do not "NEED."

We can assume, though, that the "we" does not include residents of the city of Salinas, where 40 percent of agricultural workers live in overcrowded dwellings housing three times the number of people per room as do most homes, no matter how humble, across the U.S.A. Which residents are Landwatch incorporating into their definition of the term "we" then?

This fundamentally colonialist appropriation of the term "we" - as in "WE DON'T NEED"--by Landwatch and allies has, in fact, blossomed into the central issue of the General Plan dispute.

In some cases, the issue is addressed in your basic old-fashioned 'damn-furriners' tone. "Do you want someone from over on the Peninsula, where they think lettuce grows on trees and broccoli on bushes, to vote on how you can use your land?" asked George Worthy, commentator for the agricultural King City Rustler, just a week ago.

Simon Salinas, former assemblyman and current Monterey County supe, put it more geographically: "Measure A [the Landwatch plan] is good for the peninsula, because they have found a way to become exempt."

Juan Uranga of the farmworkers' Center for Community Advocacy charged, additionally, that the Landwatch plan was "written behind closed doors by an elite few people who all look alike and think alike" to bring under control the agricultural regions of the county, which consist of "mostly working-class people of color."

But Maximo Gomez, guest commentator for the Salinas Californian, opined the most strongly of all, writing on April 27, "They won't admit that it's about race because they don't have to."

Landwatch and allies, predictably, take offense. Chris Fitz accused Uranga of "playing the race card because his arguments have no substance."

Most community commentators, though, acknowledge the wide ethnic divide.

"It's a fact that most of the elected Latino leaders in the county oppose the General Plan Initiative," editorialized Bradley Zeve in the May 10 Monterey Weekly. "That's unfortunate, because it's clear that GPI provides more self-determination for all voters."

How, exactly, Mr. Zeve knows what constitutes self-determination for, say, Latinos, better than they know it themselves, and in a "clear" manner, we don't know. Although we seem to remember someone saying something about colonialist appropriation.

But back to Landwatch, who's adopted an unusually creative two-pronged response to community criticism.

Prong 1: Denying it's had much to do with the Citizens' Initiative/Measure A. "Landwatch didn't write the plan," says Chris Fitz, despite the group's co-running the handful of public workshops on the initiative, filling early drafts with comments from Landwatch co-founder Gary Patton, and providing the official initiative to the county for balloting.

Prong 2: Skipping all that, as well as Landwatch's longstanding refusal to translate either its plan or its analyses into Spanish, but, rather, offering party opportunities. Latino-themed parties featuring mariachi bands festively churning while planes languorously drag brief pro-initiative slogans--in Spanish--overhead.

Even as the timbales resonate, however, storm clouds gather.

It turns out that the Landwatch plan, which demands a countywide public vote on even the slightest deviation from designated growth zones, may violate the deal Monterey County made with the state, in 2003, to get its housing element approved.

The League of Women Voters, defending the initiative, has declared that "not likely," but many planners, looking at the vast areas where building even lower-income housing will be prohibited, disagree. And since by state law all elements of a local general plan must conform, and the housing element is already locked in, a plan that prohibits in its land use element what's already promised in its housing element will predictably be found invalid in state courts.

An even more troublesome misstep is the fact that the Environmental Impact Report seems to be missing. The Landwatch plan, being a ballot initiative, is exempt, and doesn't have one. Its backers assure voters, though, that since the Landwatch plan is more restrictive than the county supes' GP4, the GP4's EIR has it covered.

The paradox is that Landwatch has sued the supes seeking to have that same EIR invalidated as inadequate. What happens if Landwatch wins the suit, gets the ballot measure it "didn't write" adopted, and Monterey County ends up having no EIR at all? Will any proposal, any project, or any denial withstand legal challenge of any kind?

Oh, and let's not forget the budget: so far, $1.4 million raised by both sides for the fight. 'Tis a fine, feisty morning, indeed.

Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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