County planning commissioners on Wednesday put off recommending approval of a fiveÐyear study on the Salinas Valley Water Project's effectiveness at the heart of a proposed legal settlement over the county's general plan.
The commission unanimously voted to continue its consideration of proposed general plan amendments until next month to allow county staff to provide more information on the water project at the core of a settlement between county attorneys and the Salinas Valley Water Coalition, the Monterey County Farm Bureau and others. The groups sued the county over the requirement in the general plan for proving longÐterm sustainable water supply before certain types of new development is allowed.
The proposed settlement would allow a presumption of adequate water supply for new development while the five-year study is under way.
The proposal will return to the commission on Dec. 12.
Also Wednesday, the commission recommended approval of a new traffic count method at the center of a proposed settlement with the Carmel Valley Association, which also sued over the general plan. But the commission rejected a controversial proposal included in the settlement that would have reduced the number of potential new housing units in the Carmel Valley from 266 to 190.
Both proposed settlements were presented by Deputy County Counsel Les Girard on Wednesday.
The proposed amendments would need to be approved by the Board of Supervisors.
Commissioner Martha Diehl led the charge on postponing consideration of the Salinas Valley Water Coalition deal until county water resources agency staff could provide an overview of data on the Salinas Valley Water Project so far. The water project was paid for by property owners in the Salinas Valley on the promise that it would turn back advancing seawater intrusion in Zone 2C, which includes much of the valley.
Diehl argued the commission needed information on how the project appeared to be working relative to seawater intrusion before deciding whether to accept the proposed settlement and decide how the study would be conducted.
"We have studies and I'd like to see them," she said.
Attorney Pam Silkwood, who represented the groups that challenged the county over the requirement to prove longÐterm water, said water resources data showed the project is working. However, Diehl said she heard that seawater intrusion was continuing, adding that even if the data showed it was slowing she would still be concerned about the impact of new development on the valley's water balance.
Commissioner Keith Vandevere said he still believed the requirement for proving longÐterm water for new development is important, and argued it didn't make sense to continue approving new projects under the presumption of an adequate water supply while studying whether that supply can be confirmed.
Vandevere pointed out that LandWatch and others had also sued the county over the general plan, including the environmental review's assumptions on water supply, and that suit had not yet been settled. An allÐparties settlement might be more effective than agreeing to changes that might make it more difficult to settle the LandWatch challenge, he said.
On the Carmel Valley Association settlement, Diehl said the current 266Ðunit cap on new units was the result of negotiations not based on traffic assumptions and shouldn't be set aside as part of a legal settlement with a single entity.
Attorneys Jackie Zischke and Silkwood argued against the new cap, or for specific accommodations for certain projects such as Rancho Cañada Village.
Girard and association attorney Ron DeHoff said the unit cap was a key part of the legal settlement — though they didn't say exactly why.
The commission supported the proposed amendment that would allow for counting traffic using a historical method and a newer method preferred by the county's public works department.
Jim Johnson can be reached at email@example.com or 753-6753.