As you may know, every development project anywhere in California must receive environmental review and clearance under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) before it can be approved and built.
The Congress Road location was not included in the approved 2012 “Del Monte Forest final build-out project” EIR as a development site. Not for low-income housing or for any other type of development.
CEQA has been a fundamental component of governmental accountability, transparency, and good public policy since its advent in 1970. The basic purposes of CEQA are to:
1) inform the public and governmental decision makers about a project’s potential impacts on the environment,
2) identify ways to reduce or avoid those impacts,
3) require changes to projects through the use of feasible alternatives and mitigation measures, and
4) disclose to the public the reasons why a governmental agency approved the project in the manner the agency chose.
Environmental clearance takes the form of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) or, for smaller and less impactful projects, a negative declaration or exemption.
Many members of the community have expressed a full range of perspectives on whether the Congress Road site is a sensible location for a low-income apartment housing development. Whatever your views may be on this project, please be aware of two important facts:
Fact 1: The Congress Road location was not included in the approved 2012 “Del Monte Forest final build-out project” EIR as a development site. Not for low-income housing or for any other type of development. Please refer to the site plan (Figure 2-2) from the 2012 project’s EIR, which delineates the various development areas and preservation areas that the Pebble Beach company represented (at that time) as being the totality of its future development plans.
You will notice that the site plan, as well as the rest of the 2012 EIR, is completely silent with regard to”Area D,” the proposed low-income housing development site.
The Pebble Beach Company proclaims that the Congress Rd site was not one of the preservation areas, as part of that overall 2012 project. And that’s true, as far as it goes. However, they fail to mention that the site was not one of the identified development areas either.
Fact 2: As a result of Fact 1, above, the low-income housing project currently has no environmental clearance status. The EIR for the 2012 Del Monte Forest Project provides no cover for the now-proposed low-income housing project on Congress Road. This is a wholly new, stand-alone project and will require its own analysis and clearance. The correct procedural track for this project is the more involved and rigorous EIR process; not a Negative Declaration or a minor amendment/”addendum” to the 2012 EIR. A new EIR is the only way to ensure a thorough assessment of the project’s impacts on biological resources (the Monterey Pine forest), land use, aesthetics, traffic, public safety–there is no safe walking route to/from the site–and numerous other CEQA subject areas. A new EIR is also the only process that will require a full evaluation of potential alternatives to this project, such as development on an urbanized, non-forested site, or payment of an in-lieu fee to support other affordable housing projects on other sites (as the Pebble Beach Company repeatedly, publicly said they would do as part of its EIR and project approval agreements with the County last year).
To date, the County and the Pebble Beach Company have not given any indications regarding their CEQA compliance plan. They arguably should have not taken the project to a public hearing before the County Planning Commission’s Del Monte Forest Land Use Advisory Committee this month without being able to state what their CEQA determination is going to be. The County and the project applicant/developer (Pebble Beach Company) must carry out their obligations under CEQA to analyze, disclose, and minimize this project’s impacts, and evaluate the feasibility of a reasonable range of project alternatives. The time has come for the County to assure local residents that it intends to fulfill its State-mandated CEQA obligations for requiring preparation of a new EIR for this project as soon as possible.