The Pebble Beach Company made the first public presentation of the new forest destruction project yesterday (April 27, 2011)
While, in their own way, Pebble Beach Company knows what they were doing, it was embarrassingly clear that Monterey County staff (lead by Joe Sidor) and the hired commercial consultant (Jones and Stokes) have no more idea how to handle this project than Donald Trump (“Trump for President – We shall OverComb”).
In addition, they admitted bias for its approval and have turned over all investigation to the developer – Pebble Beach Company itself ! (“Fox guarding the Henhouse” ?)
1) County staff and the Consultant’s Project team (Jones and Stokes) demonstrated that they don’t understand the fundamental environmental facts existing today (endangered species, water and traffic), the environmental laws (CEQA and the Coastal Act) or the basic environmental and ecological science that will control this project’s compliance with law.
- They are both fundamentally incompetent to prepare or evaluate a scientifically or legally defensible Environmental Impact Report for this project.
a) Ignoring Recent Areas of Endangered Species Habitat
In response to a question from a native plant expert (Nikki Nedeff) the County project Planner Joe Sidor replied with “Plants can move” directly implying that former habitat of endangered plants and animals will be ignored.
- Meaning the County will not recognize or protect areas where endangered plants have been found in the very recent past. So apparently the EIR will not address or protect areas where for some amazing reason (like getting paid to close their eyes) Pebble Beach Company’s consultant can not seem to find them anymore.
b) Distinct Legal Terms are Not mere “Semantics”
The clue-free Jones and Stokes Project manager stated that the difference between “avoiding” environmental impacts and “reducing” harm is only “semantics.”
- Wrong. Semantics means two ideas have roughly the same idea. Here there are two different laws, with two fundamentally different principles.
While CEQA allows mere reduction of environmental impacts, the Coastal Act requires “avoidance” of environmental harm to endangered species. Its the difference between reducing your consumption of the deadly poison arsenic and avoiding eating it altogether.
(I’ve changed my mind. Since they think “avoiding” and “reducing” are the same thing, we will simply insist they need to avoid all environmental impacts !)
c) Fundamental Science Measure is a Mystery
None of the County staff or the Consultant’s Project team had any idea how to decide on a “Threshold of Significance” for loss of Monterey pine forest ecosystems. This is probably the most fundamental measure that will decide whether the EIR is legally valid or not.
- The Jones and Stokes Project manager said that they might use what was in the earlier (failed) PBC project EIRs.
Hmmm . . . “Those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it.”
If those earlier “Thresholds of Significance” for loss of Monterey pine forest ecosystems measures were legally defensible, the earlier EIRs would have had the same conclusion as the Coastal Commission – which had a legal duty to overturn the previous project – in large part because of the proposed immense destruction of Monterey pine forest ecosystems.
When they were asked to have the EIR evaluate the Legal basis of Pebble Beach Company’s claimed “water entitlement” and evaluating the “Legal Lots of Record” – County staff and the Consultant’s Project team were wholly puzzled; like a deer in headlights. They had no more idea what these subjects were than if they’d been asked about geology on Jupiter.
2) For the 1992 Pebble Beach Company EIR the County at least tried to keep the developer at arms length from the technical consultants. The County hired the technical consultants and billed Pebble Beach Company for the cost of the reports.
Not this time.
- County staff (the in-over-his-head Joe Sidor) is not only allowing, but defending the use of all critical reports (endangered species maps, traffic etc.) prepared by the developer – Pebble Beach Company.
The proper way to do technical reports is to keep developer applicants at “arms length” from technical reports because (similar to bribery) Developers only hire consultants who write almost exactly what they want. (Mr. Rogers asks — Can you spell “Biostitute?“) If the consultants don’t write a corrupt report – they never get hired again – by either developers or government agencies.
Worse, when Developers (and sometimes Monterey County) want complete control over technical reports they insist on Non-disclosure Contracts with consultants so they can change the report to say precisely what they want – and the consultant can never tell the public that the report was not what they wrote.
3) County staff already assumes the project will be approved and is biased towards the project.
- The project requires removing a development restriction called “B8 zoning.” This restriction is in place because our peninsula is at or past capacity in Water (obvious), Sewage (recall all the beach closures in Pebble Beach this winter?), and traffic (ever sit in Holman Highway Gridlock?).
County Planner Joe Sidor said that they would remove the B8 zoning because all the water, sewage and traffic capacity problems are “already resolved.”
Uhhh . . . Joe, you just offered THREE conclusions (on water, sewage and traffic) BEFORE the EIR analyzes them. That is called “bias.” That completely violates the whole idea of the EIR law and process – which insists that project harm conclusions wait until after an adequate EIR is completed.
Or – stay there and HOPE will be obliged to play our recording of yesterday’s public meeting to the Court for the CEQA and Coastal Act issues.
For 15 years I and others including the inimitable and eloquent Janice O’Brien and world plant expert Corky Matthews warned the County of the many ways the earlier versions of this project were illegal. They wholly and pompously ignored us. (See Dunning–Kruger effect – the Cornell study “How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments”)
But when the County had to get Coastal Commission approval for a project that they knew was goofily illegal, they had to explain it with a “the dog ate my homework” set of lame excuses.
By then County staff was so embarrassed, they delivered it by putting it on the ground and kicking it sideways into the Coastal Commission’s office – kind of like you would kick a moose turd out of the way and into the gutter.
So now, rather than take “getting kicked through the goal posts” (the Coastal Commission’s project rejection) as a lesson that they must provide a better process – County staff are starting off even worse than before; they are going backwards.
* Here’s one hundred million dollars of advice – for free.
What developers in general and Pebble Beach Company and the County don’t seem to understand is that if they do an Environmental Impact Report right, if they make a scientifically and legally proper Environmental Impact Report – HOPE will have nothing to sue about.
This means – when a scientifically and legally proper Environmental Impact Report is approved there is no (at least 2-year) delay while waiting for the courts to make a decision. Developers can start building 30 days later.
All they accomplish with the standard “lets try to get away with 90 mph in a school zone” – is they make lawyers and environmental consultants wealthy.
Instead of wasting 20 years and tens of millions of dollars on lawyers and environmental consultants, if Pebble Beach Company had insisted on a scientifically and legally proper Environmental Impact Report in 1992 or 1994 or 2000 – they would probably have an approved and operating project by now – that would have looked somewhat like the one they just proposed.
But then what do I know? I don’t even Facebook or Twitter ;-)
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-David Dilworth, for the Board of Trustees